Ben Simmons Gives Sixers New Life With Position Switch

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Every weekday, SI’s Chris Mannix will check-in with his Bubble Bits, a quick hit on something notable from inside the NBA’s campus

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Ben Simmons doesn’t like labels. At 6’10”, 240-pounds, Simmons carries the size of a power forward. A gifted ballhandler and dazzling passer, Simmons possesses the skills of a point guard. He didn’t care about his position in 2017, when Sixers coach Brett Brown installed Simmons as his starting point guard. And, he insists, he doesn’t care now, with Philadelphia set to resume its season with Simmons at power forward.

“I haven’t really been looking at the position,” Simmons said. “When I’m put in different situations, I’m able to succeed. These past two [scrimmages], I’ve been doing well. I can always do better. There’s a lot I need to work on. Overall, I’m getting that flow back and I’m feeling really good.”

As the NBA inches towards its return, few on-court moves loom as more significant as Simmons's switch to the frontcourt. Pre-pandemic, the Sixers were floundering. A back injury had sidelined Simmons since late February, threatening to end his season. Philadelphia—preseason darlings after signing Al Horford to a four-year, $109 million deal last offseason—was in the back half of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket, barreling toward a first-round exit.

ben simmons

The hiatus gave Simmons a chance to heal. The resumed season will see him in a new position. Brown revealed earlier this month that Simmons would shift to power forward, freeing room for Shake Milton—who excelled in Simmons's absence—to remain in the starting lineup.

The early returns have been promising. Simmons handed out nine assists in Philadelphia’s exhibition opener against Memphis. But that wasn’t the most notable statistic. Simmons fired up two three-pointers against the Grizzlies, making one. For context, Simmons has attempted six all season, connecting on two. Brown says Simmons has been a more willing three-point shooter in practice. Warming up before Philadelphia’s scrimmage against Oklahoma City, Simmons spent a considerable amount of time taking three’s from the corners. When the Sixers went to layup lines, Simmons continued to toss up shots from deep.

On the floor, Simmons's role hasn’t changed. He finished one assist shy of a triple double against the Thunder. He operated as the playmaker in transition. He attacked Darius Bazely when Oklahoma City went big on him and posted up Chris Paul when they tried to go small. He has been Philadelphia’s best player through two scrimmages—by a wide margin.

What does it mean? It means, at least, that the Sixers are more dangerous now than they were back in March. Milton has looked comfortable playing alongside Simmons. Horford isn’t thrilled about moving to the bench, but Philadelphia planned to platoon Horford with Joel Embiid in most games anyway. Simmons won’t be a sniper from three-point range, but bigs even having to drift out to defend him will have no chance staying with him off the dribble.

Ben Simmons has a new position. Philadelphia has new life.