Game Preview | While Adjusting, Simmons Focused on Aggressive Approach

by Brian Seltzer Reporter

Scene Setter:

CAMDEN, NJ - Through the opening month of the season, a few 76ers opponents have adopted a similar approach when it comes to defending Ben Simmons:

Back off in one-on-one situations, and give the dynamic rookie some space, in hopes of clogging the key and inviting jump shots, rather than risk being exposed to dangerous drives to the basket. To “sag,” essentially, has been one line of thinking.

In Brett Brown’s eyes, no three teams have been more willing to commit to this strategy than the Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors, and the Utah Jazz.

Having just played Golden State for the second time in a week, and a re-match with Utah set for Monday evening (7:00 PM EST; NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network), Simmons currently finds himself at a juncture where he can work on adapting.

“There’s some adjustments we have to make there,” Brett Brown said this weekend. “We’ve always said you can’t sag speed, you can’t sort of cheat movement. We hope to play fast, we hope to move, and let Ben find his spots.”

Based on how Simmons fared from his first to second go-rounds versus the Warriors, the preliminary results are encouraging. 

As was the case in Round 1 between the Sixers and Dubs November 11th at Oracle Arena, the defending champs again chose to sag on Simmons, especially early.

Here’s a screen grab from the Sixers’ opening possession this past Saturday. Look at how much room separates Simmons and 2017 Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green:

This sag tactic was steadily deployed by Golden State throughout most of Saturday’s opening half, with Green acting as Simmons’ primary defender.  

Back in their first game against the Sixers, the Warriors were mostly successful in impeding Simmons’ paths to the basket. That night, the point man, a 52.1 shooter who ranks fourth in the NBA with 13.9 points in the paint scored per game, was an uncharacteristic 6 for 17 from the field. The bulk of his attempts came from the free throw line area.

Saturday at The Center, however, Simmons was ready to meet the sag challenge immediately, as the first quarter sequence below demonstrates. Here, Green - isolated with Simmons on the near wing - opts to retreat ever so slightly, and go under a Joel Embiid pick. Simmons makes Green pay.

“That just means I can get a closer shot at the rim,” Simmons said Saturday, when asked about handling sag situations. “I don’t miss too many hook shots off two feet, so I just got to take them.”

He certainly didn’t in the above play.

Throughout Saturday evening, rather than accept an initial, open mid-range look, which happened in the Sixers’ first pairing with the Dubs, Simmons appeared to be more intent on attacking.

The outcome was a far more efficient, interior-based 11 for 15 performance from the floor, which yielded 23 points. Only four of the 21-year old’s attempts came from outside 8 feet, compared to the previous weekend, when all but five of his shots were taken from 9 feet out or farther.

“For me, I just got to be more aggressive,” Simmons said. 

He was, with both he and the Sixers reaping the rewards in a dominant first half.

Even after Golden State altered its coverage of Simmons late in Saturday’s second frame, and into the third (the Warriors put Kevin Durant on Simmons), the Aussie didn’t back down.

Monday, when squaring off with defensively-stout Utah for the second time in two weeks, Simmons will be presented with another chance to tinker. He finished 7 for 22 from the field versus the Jazz on November 7th, with 13 shots measured at 9 feet or deeper. 

“If I’m full head of steam, I’m quick to get in front of them,” Simmons said of opponents who sag, and subsequently leave him space to operate.  

The attitude served Simmons well Saturday against Golden State. Now, he’ll be out to do it again.

Opponent Outlook:

The Utah Jazz (7-10) report to The Center for their lone visit to South Philadelphia this season on the heels of having posted their most convincing win to-date. Saturday, the Jazzmen, dealing with a litany of injuries, walloped the Orlando Magic, 125-85, at Amway Center. Monday, in the finale of a four-game road trip, Utah is expected to be without at least Rudy Gobert (right knee) and Joe Johnson (right wrist). Ricky Rubio (achilles) returned to action Saturday, but logged only 16 minutes. Dante Exum (shoulder) has been on the shelf for nearly two months.  

Follow Along:

Video: ESPN / WatchESPN app, NBC Sports Philadelphia / NBC Sports app

Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network