Is Ben Simmons' move to PF the change the Sixers needed?

After a four-plus month hiatus, NBA basketball is ready to retake the stage. The restart, and the unprecedented circumstances surrounding it, have produced no shortage of intrigue and last week the Philadelphia 76ers added one more storyline to the pile when they announced that star Ben Simmons would move from the point guard position to power forward in the team’s starting lineup.

The Sixers possessed a fair amount of intrigue even before the announcement. Their revamped roster (goodbye Jimmy Butler, hello Josh Richardson and Al Horford) wildly underperformed expectations, holding the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed at the time of the shutdown. Questions about whether the team could find the form that was expected of them and become a dark horse contender for the NBA title were plentiful. Now, we’ve added a position change for one of the league’s brightest and most polarizing stars into the mix.

During the team’s three scrimmage games, we got our first glimpse at what Simmons as a power forward would look like. The results were interesting, to say the least.

Before digging in, it’s worth noting that the change isn’t quite as drastic as it sounds. There will still be ample opportunities for Simmons to handle the ball as a primary initiator both as a power forward (in transition) and as a traditional point guard when the Sixers begin to get into their rotations. Still, there will certainly be changes with the new-look starting five. Here’s what we’ve learned so far in our brief observations of the experiment.

The most noticeable iteration of the new-look Sixers involved Simmons operating at the elbow, a placement that we saw produce several wrinkles. In one, we saw Simmons receive the ball at the elbow while Joel Embiid set a screen for Tobias Harris on the weak side. Harris dribbled into a pull-up jumper. In another, and perhaps this is the most interesting and dangerous wrinkle, we saw Simmons get the ball on the elbow and simply turn and break down his defender. Here is where Simmons’ most lethal attributes…speed, size, and playmaking ability…can be best exploited. Simmons is just a dribble away from the rim and the defense must be aware. From this position, Simmons can explode to the basket for a score or punish a rotating defense either with a kick-out to a shooter or a dump-off to a teammate at the rim. This scenario also opens the opportunity for continued ball movement, sending the defense scrambling and opening the door to a myriad of good looks.

One other wrinkle we saw is a two-man game with Simmons and his replacement at the point guard spot, Shake Milton. After passing to Simmons, Milton cuts across Simmons’ face. If Milton’s defender goes underneath of Simmons, he simply passes it back to Milton for a wide-open 3. If he goes over, Milton can cut hard to the basket. Or Simmons can turn and face the basket and the Sixers can get into one of their other options.

Simmons working from the elbow was the most obvious, and versatile, difference to surface so far, but it wasn’t the only thing he did in his new role. We also saw Simmons doing some screening and running some decoy actions on the weak side, which is presumably something the team could expand on as it gets used to the change.

In previous iterations of the Sixers experimenting with Simmons off the ball, Philadelphia would typically have him lurking in the dunker’s spot, along the baseline just outside the paint. And here we have another big change. During the team’s three scrimmages, we saw more of Simmons settling in the corner. Much maligned for his unwillingness to shoot the ball from outside of 10 feet, Simmons launched two 3-pointers in the Sixers’ first scrimmage, hitting the second. That points as much to a change in Simmons’ mindset as it does to anything specific about the position change. But if he continues to show that willingness to shoot the impact on the team’s experiment, and really its overall prospects for success, is immense.

It’s impossible to draw definite conclusions from three scrimmage games after a four-month layoff, but the early returns for the Sixers are beyond encouraging. Early in the season, it became clear that the roster construction was a bit clunky, particularly on the offensive end. The Sixers would often get bogged down in the halfcourt and the spacing was mostly terrible. The change to the starting lineup could prove to be just what the team needed to open things up offensively and to allow it to play to the strengths of each individual piece more productively.

Questions remain for Simmons and the Sixers, but if you’re a betting person there’s quite an opportunity here. As the Sixers failed to gel and find any sort of consistency during the season, they went from a title favorite to an afterthought. That remains the case as the league prepares to get back on the court, creating some value for anyone willing to take a risk on the Sixers and their experiment at

One thing’s for sure, the Sixers will be worth watching in Orlando. They’ve committed to making a bold move in an effort to salvage a season that started with the highest of hopes and to unlock the full potential of one of the league’s most talented young stars. The results of their experiment could have profound impacts not only on the outcome of the current season, but on the team’s future as it tries to maximize the championship window of one of the league’s best young duos in Simmons and Embiid. As the Sixers try to put the pieces together, is this the move that unlocks the puzzle?

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