Game Preview | Simmons in Transition an Important, Evolving Weapon

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

Scene Setter:

The description offered by a fellow international import was, "So powerful."

"Unstoppable" was the first word that came to mind for another point guard and occasional backcourt sidekick.

“It was clear to me from the second I saw him,” said the head coach, who’s been watching the phenom since his college days.

More than halfway through the season, Ben Simmons’ presence in transition has undoubtedly proven to be an offensive game-changer for the 76ers.

There’s the size, the explosiveness, the strength, and, perhaps equally as important, the mindset, all ingredients that, when blended together, create an open-court concoction unpleasant for opponents to digest.

Simmons’ impact in this area goes well beyond stats (according to stats.nba.com, Simmons is responsible for 0.96 points per transition possession). Just watch the 21-year old at work in the Sixers’ run game, and the positive ripple effects are plain to see. 

Obviously, Simmons is a dependable transition scorer, as he shows here following a Kris Dunn miss in Thursday’s win at Chicago…

...or, as another clip from the Bulls game demonstrates, he can be counted on in transition to create for others as well.

There are multiple ways to administer the poison.

“He’s probably one of the best in the league in transition,” said Dario Saric, who has had nearly 44 percent of his assisted baskets this season set up by Simmons. “That size, that speed is unbelievable. Guards who are smaller than him, they can’t do anything. They cannot react, they cannot move. Him in transition opens so many shots for us, for other players, and this is probably one of our best weapons.”

Having kept tabs on Simmons long before he turned pro, Brett Brown said that watching the Aussie play at LSU offered all the confirmation that was needed to know what type of transition force Simmons could become at the next level.

Between the “breakaway speed” at 6-foot-10; the overall physique; and the mentality to want to play fast, get to the rim, and involve others; Simmons boasted the complete package. 

"It’s staggering the distance he can cover on limited dribbles,” Brown said Saturday. “His speed has always been something that was kind of breathtaking, his ability to get from one end of the floor to another at the height and size that he has.”

By Simmons’ calculations, he estimates he only needs, on average, about one dribble to get across halfcourt. For as quick as it took Brown, and others, to recognize Simmons’ prowess in transition, the point man himself has had a hunch about his own potential for awhile.

“I’ve been saying the same thing since high school,” said the Montverde Academy product. “I knew I was going to come in [to the NBA], and push the ball.”

As Simmons’ debut campaign has moved forward, and his Rookie of the Year bid along with it, the Sixers’ approach to deploying him in transition has become more refined, and specific. 

“What we like to do the most, when we’re pushing the ball off a missed basket, we love him to first get into the middle of the floor and create,” said Billy Lange, the Sixers’ fifth-year assistant responsible for overseeing the team’s offensive game planning. “Sometimes, the defense won’t allow [Simmons] to get to the middle, so what we’ve talked about with Ben is if he’s pushing it on a sideline, most teams are going to back up on him. Where Ben’s gotten a lot better is he will immediately attack his defender off the dribble, and then just start backing the guy in. It’s really hard to guard in transition, because the defense is already backpedaling.”

The “Ben Backdown” is how Lange tagged the concept.

Once he establishes a post up out of transition, Simmons has plenty of options. He can go to the middle of the floor and attempt to score, kick the ball out to the perimeter, or continue to backdown his man deeper towards the block.

Take this sequence, for example, from Chicago...

...or this one, from the Sixers’ February 10th victory over the LA Clippers.

That Simmons is capable of being so versatile and dangerous in transition is part of the reason why T.J. McConnell considers his teammate to be “unstoppable.”

“I’m 6-10, I can pass the ball, I’m fast, I’m strong, I’m quick,” said Simmons.

A combination that’s helped take the Sixers to new heights.

Opponent Outlook:

A share of fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings will be on the line Sunday, when the Sixers square off against the Washington Wizards in the finale of their four-game season series (8:00 PM EST; ESPN, NBC Sports Philadelphia, 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network). The Sixers currently trail the Wizards by 1.0 game in the standings. So far this year, the home team has held serve in each meeting. The Sixers dropped a 120-115 decision to the Wizards on opening night, but then knocked off Washington 118-113 and 115-102 in a pair of games played at The Center in November and February, respectively. John Wall has been missing in action (left knee surgery) since January 27th. Washington, however, has compiled an 8-3 record in the five-time All-Star’s absence, with one of those losses coming at the hands of the Sixers.  

Follow Along:

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

• Audio: 97.5 FM The Fanatic / Sixers Radio Network