With the 76ers returning to practice in the Orlando bubble, the big news to come out was that Shake Milton was in the point guard role while Ben Simmons played the power forward position. While this may be a delightful sound to some fan’s ears, it is not a new concept for the team to use Ben off the ball.
Forget about position right now, let’s just look a Ben as a roller and a cutter. Basically Ben off the ball. I really do buy into the concept of positionless basketball, and even more so with guys like Ben Simmons and his versatility
Note: Recently I found a site called bball-index.com, the site has many stats and ranking break downs, and also differentiates players by not only position but also in an offensive role and defensive role. For this article, I am going to look at Ben and his offensive role, which is a tall creator, rather than a position. Tall creator puts him in the same category as players like Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Lance Stephenson for example.
Ben Simmons as a Role Man
Let’s start with Ben in the pick and roll game, we have seen the 76ers use Ben as a role man this year, and in years past. If we look at the numbers given to us by bball-index can see where he grades out. From the chart below we can see:
- 63% percentile of roll possessions/ 75 possessions (which should rise now if he pays more off the ball)
- 69% percentile of screen assists in the PNR/per 75 possessions meaning points scored because of his screens
- 98% percentile in rim gravity, meaning the amount of focus a defense on him at the rim when Ben rolls
- his overall impact as a roll man/per 75 possessions is lower in percentile, 38% which should go up as he gets more comfortable rolling, and hopefully if Shake continues to play well.
For fun, we will compare Ben to Lebron, although I don’t think it’s a totally fair comparison, Lebron according to bball-index is a mega creator and Ben just isn’t at that level yet, but if he wants to be one of the greatest let’s see how far off he is of one the greatest.
Some major takeaways we can see here in comparing Lebron to Ben in the roller role:
- Ben has been used more as a roller than Lebron
- Lebron is more impactful, but hope in time Ben catches up
- Ben actually has an advantage this season over Lebron attacking the rim out the PNR and has more screen assist
There have been multiple games and times when Ben has been used a roll man, and has different pairings doing it, and depending on who is the ball handler we can see how effective it is. Josh Richardson struggled at times, along with Joel Embiid, and often miss an open Ben when he rolls or slips. Matisse Thybulle has done well working with Simmons in the pick and roll, and the hope should be that Ben and Milton can build chemistry to be an effective pick and roll option.
Some examples throughout the season:
Here is a small example of Ben off-ball screening for Neto, getting the switch onto a smaller defender and attacking the rim for an easy bucket.
Here we can see Ben roll to the rim after setting a screen for Matisse, Thybulle’s ability to shoot and lack of communication between the defense allow for an easy dunk for Ben. We should start to see more of this between Simmons and Milton, with Shake adding the element of the dribble drive to confuse defenders even more.
Shake’s ability to come off the screen, and be a threat either shooting or driving with Ben’s ability to roll and attack the rim, is dangerous and confusing to the defense, and because Milton’s vision and passing he is able to lob it up to Simmons for a high percentage shot.
We can start to see some chemistry between Shake and Ben, and here we have Shake initiating the offense, and the fake handoff, in my opinion, is much like a pick and roll, but Simmons ability to drive draws the defense to him, now with Milton involved and his ability to get to the rim, it creates a whole new dynamic for the defenders to figure out. ultimately the defenders choose Ben, and because of his ability to pass, he finds an open cutting shake for a layup, giving Simmons a screen assist. All of this is possible because Ben playing off the ball.
Off Ball Movement
Now let’s look at how Simmons can score and affect the game outside of rolling, but still playing off the ball. According to bball-index, the number two top talent area is off-ball movement. That is defined as the ability to score through cutting and off-screen opportunities.
Bball Index also broke down what percentile, Ben is compared to the rest of the league for his off-ball movement, just like we saw with roll gravity. Main points to take away here:
- Ben is not good off screens and isn’t used as such (0% percentile off-screen possessions per 75.
- Simmons excels at movements and flash cuts
- 79% percentile attack rate
- 83 percentile movement points(points generated off off-ball movement) per 75 possessions
- 98 percentile in both cuts per game and cut shares.
- 74% field goal percentage on cuts
Now let’s compare Simmons to James again and see where Ben stacks up moving off the ball.
Here we can see that Ben actually grades out better than Lebron with moving off the ball. However, Ben does not run off screens, most likely because of lack of shot, but outside of that Ben will cut off-ball much more than Lebron. Lebron’s impact offcuts are better, but with the lack of a steady passer hurts Ben’s ability to be impactful. The emergence of Shake, and his ability to play PG, should give Simmons the ability to impact the game much more with off-ball cuts.
Here are some examples of how Ben is effective cutting off the ball:
Here we see Ben position himself off the drive and cut towards the rim for an easy lob, Neto has the ability to get past his man here because there was a switch earlier, leaving TLC on Ben and the slower guy on Neto, and then TLC has to come over to stop the Neto layup. With Milton, he has the ability to drive past guards without the switch, and as we will see Shake can make a crisp pass and has displayed good chemistry at times with Ben.
Here we can see how effective Ben is and the IQ he has to know when to cut, he sees the defender sleeping on a missed shot, Shake grabs the rebound and giving his passibility makes a crisp quick pass to Ben who is able to get an easy layup and one. These are the types of plays that having Simmons and Milton on the floor together, using Ben off-ball, and Milton’s abilities to make quick passes we should start to see more of. It will lead to more easy points for Ben or open up some space for Milton to shoot or dribble drive.
So what does this all mean?
The emergence and hopefully continuation of Shake Milton being a contributor, and handling the ball should free up Simmons to do some more off the ball and become much more of a scoring threat. Not needing Ben to constantly have the ball in his hands, should further unlock his game, especially with his athleticism, basketball IQ, and speed. With a suitable ball-handler it frees Ben up to do stuff he is good at more often, putting him in situations to get easier points, by targeting him in cuts, pick and roll, and outlet passes, which would also help speed up the pace of play, which they are currently ranked 19th in the league.
Simmons playing off-ball is not a new concept to the team, however now potentially the 76ers have an option in Shake Milton, which provides them a legitimate threat as a ball handler. Other than Shake the next best option Alec Burks, who may not be here after this season, and Josh Richardson, who isn’t really the greatest as a ball-handler in the pick and roll.
Ben is still going to have the balls in his hands a lot, and may even be announced as the starting point guard still, but when you break down his role rather than position, playing with guards like Shake will open up Simmons game, and the 76ers can use Simmons in a way that could make him eventually be the primary option on offense.
Call Ben Simmons a power forward, a point guard, a tall creator, or whatever you’d like, but the ultimate goal is to unlock as much of his game as they can, to eventually be on the mega creator (Lebron James offensive role according to bball-index) and taking the ball out of his hands and placing it in Shake Milton’s hands more, allowing Ben to roll and cut more and get easier points should accomplish that.
charts and statistics via bball-index.com
videos via nba.com