The Kawhi Leonard buzzer beating dagger; which caused Joel Embiid to cry some grown ass man tears; brought us to the precipice of what feels like the most pivotal off season the Process has yet to endure. When they traded for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, the Sixers went all in on taking a shot at the title this year. They failed to make it out of the second round. Woj reported that the Sixers will run it back with Brett Brown for at least part of one more year, so that means that next up on the docket is dealing with Harris and Butler’s pending unrestricted free agency. Butler was awesome and truly essential to Philadelphia’s playoff run, especially in crunch time; whilst Harris was completely average in a role that basically asked him to be a spot up floor spacer. They’ll both want huge money and my bet is they both get it, most likely from Philly. So with that...what the hell are the Sixers going to do with Ben Simmons?
Everything that we learned by watching two rounds of playoff Simmons, we could have learned by just watching game one against Brooklyn.
Simmons as a point guard works pretty well in the regular season, but it works less well when a team can game plan for it for two weeks. Simmons can be a terror in transition but both the Nets and Raptors decided to treat Simmons as a complete non-factor in the half court. In the playoffs things slow down and games turn into a half court grind where Simmons inability and stubbornness to shoot a jump shot really fucks with what the Sixers can do offensively. Simmons Fultz Syndrome prevents him from standing out on the perimeter where teams will just ignore him as they know he isn’t a threat to do anything out there. This makes life much harder on Joel Embiid as the defense will just send Simmons’ man to Joel without consequence. In turn, Simmons tries to work the opposite baseline looking for an offensive rebound or a dump pass. The issue with this placement is that this clogs the paint for the rest of the lineup and minimizes their strengths. Jimmy and Tobias couldn’t find easy lanes to the paint, so when they tried to create for themselves they were forced into more mid-range and long twos. To counter Simmons post positioning, the Sixers sometimes bring Embiid out to the perimeter. This is a good thing for the defense as when Joel isn’t working a two-man dribble hand off clinic with Redick, he has no issue chucking threes, which he does with very little success.
So Elton Brand will head into the off season not only worried about Jimmy and Tobias, but he’ll have to decide if he wants to keep the Simmons/Embiid combo together. If the Sixers run it back one more year they’ll get one more rookie contract Simmons season before he becomes a jumbo Lonzo Ball that takes up 25% of your cap space.
Brett Brown can’t afford to get complacent with his use of Simmons. He’s going to have to find some new ways to maximize Simmons effectiveness. The easiest fix is to stagger his minutes with Joel as much as possible and try to turn him into Giannis-lite by playing him as a small ball five surrounded by jump shooters. This will entail Elton Brand targeting a whole bunch of jump shooters in free agency, which he should be doing regardless of what he decides on Simmons. Playing Simmons with shooters will give him the space he needs to take advantage of his quickness, passing, and finishing ability as teams will have a much more difficult time cheating off of their men when Simmons works his way to the hoop. As an aside...you know who’d have been a good fit in a spread offense? Landry Shamet would have been a good fit. You know who else would have been a good fit? Mikal Bridges would have been a good fit. Instead the Sixers will have to hope they can afford to bring back an aging but still awesome Redick while adding a few cheaper guys like Wayne Ellington, Reggie Bullock, JR Smith, or Seth Curry.
The other option is to throw the experiment out the window and trade Simmons while his value is still high for someone who makes for a better fitting puzzle piece. Perhaps the Sixers try to get in on the Anthony Davis trade talks. Whatever road they choose, they’ll need to choose it quick, because time waits for no one. Who knows how long Embiid’s body holds up? Who knows how long the Sixers window will truly be? When Brand traded for Butler and Harris he turned over the proverbial hour glass; the time is now. The Process is officially over, it died in round two. Long live the Process.