Philly may have all the right pieces, but with a plethora of capable passers, who should handle the ball for the Sixers?
“Trust the Process” has seemingly come to fruition in Philly after years of tanking. All the potential is there for this team. Joel Embiid, albeit in 31 games, averaged 20 points and eight rebounds along with over two blocks a game last season. Fellow All-Rookie First Teamer Dario Saric had a decent year himself, averaging almost 13 points and six rebounds. Add two number-one overall picks in Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz and the city of Philadelphia may be relevant in basketball again.
Obviously jumping the gun on Philly is foolish, seeing as two of the four players above haven’t played a minute in the NBA yet. Other questions arise like, “How will they all mesh together?” or if Embiid can play a full season. But one uniquely interesting question arises when looking at the possibly resurgent Sixers: Who will be the primary ball handler?
T.J. McConnell handled the ball the majority of the time for the Sixers last year. McConnell averaged seven points and over six assists last year, and the highlight of his season was his clutch game-winner against the Knicks.
NBA (@NBA) January 12, 2017
But McConnell has obvious limitations. The third-year guard from Arizona only shot 20% from three and was minus-two in offensive plus-minus. And on top of that, the Sixers made significant upgrades this offseason.
One of those upgrades came in the form of Ben Simmons, the franchise’s number-one overall pick in 2016. Simmons, however, didn’t touch the court in his first year because of a Jones fracture in his right foot. As potentially good as Simmons looks in workouts, potential doesn’t mean a darn thing until he steps on the court and balls out for real.
Look who joined Ben Simmons for a workout in Vegas pic.twitter.com/1OUdX7Njb7— Jon Johnson (@jonjohnsonwip) July 12, 2017
The last time we saw Simmons on the court was in the Las Vegas Summer League in 2016.
In his two games in Utah, Simmons averaged eight points, over seven rebounds, and five assists. Then out in Vegas, Simmons upped his point production and rebounding, averaging over 12 while staying over five assists a game. Sixers fans were beaming before Simmons got hurt and missed the entire 2016-2017 season, but the potential is obviously there. The only problem is that he hasn’t stepped on an NBA court, and until that happens no one can be certain.
Enter Markelle Fultz. The Sixers’ number-one overall draft pick this past summer was one of the many prized talents in the draft. Fultz led the University of Washington in points and assists per game last year and, even though Washington was bad, Fultz was outstanding.
The Prince George’s County product, like Simmons, was stuck as the only playmaker on a college squad that wasn’t good enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Fultz was forced to make plays for a team that didn’t have production from many other players. Fultz averaged 23 points and almost six assists per game. Both averages were almost double the next highest scorer and assister on the team. Fultz’s 23 and six as a freshman were both top 20 in the nation, and Fultz also led all freshmen in PER at 27.9.
So who handles the ball? Even though both are capable, Fultz off the ball with Simmons running the point and McConnell coming off the bench make the most sense for the Sixers.
And here’s why…
First, Fultz is by far the best perimeter shooter of the three. In his one year at Washington, Fultz shot over 41% from three, while Simmons only took three shots from beyond the arc at LSU. If Simmons doesn’t have the ball in his hands he’s less impactful because defenses can clog driving lanes for other players. But with Fultz off the ball and J.J. Reddick running around as well, Simmons should have more space to create for others, utilize his remarkable passing ability, and get to the basket.
Simmons also presents a matchup problem for most teams at the three and the four. Simmons is essentially an almost-seven-foot point guard. Do teams put a bigger, slower guy on him, or match up with a smaller guy and see what Simmons has in the post? Either opportunity opens Simmons up to create more. Most teams don’t have a Draymond Green or Giannis Antetokounmpo, who can match up both physically and in terms of quickness.
In the post, Simmons will draw attention with a smaller defender on him as he did in the first video. The matchup nightmare is also displayed in the second video when Simmons drives right through defenders on his way to and-one finishes at the rim. And he showcased his passing ability during summer league.
Just remembered Ben Simmons’ Summer League passing, so here: pic.twitter.com/QM353ivwh3— Dan Devine (@YourManDevine) August 31, 2017
Simmons’s passing ability and his size creating a matchup problem frees Fultz to do what he did best in college: score. Simmons plays the role of LeBron and Fultz is free to be Kyrie.
We’ll see how the Sixers choose to handle their point guard situation. But to get the most potential out of their lineup, the Sixers should let Simmons handle the ball and let Fultz do the perimeter scoring.
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