Call Ben Simmons what you want. A point guard, a point forward, it doesn’t matter to him or the 76ers.
“He’s our facilitator for sure,” Doc Rivers said following Monday’s practice. “Now unless I have a true-true point guard like Chris Paul or [Rajon] Rondo, I rarely, I don’t think I’ve ever called anybody a point guard the entire season last year [with the Los Angeles Clippers].
“But Ben is clearly our facilitator, and Ben is special, man.”
The future Hall of Fame coach will tell you there are very few like Simmons in the open floor. So the plan is to get him the ball and let him be special.
Rivers knows a lot about having special handlers and elite players.
Rondo was the starting point guard when Rivers coached the Boston Celtics to the 2008 NBA title. The 34-year-old, who helped the Los Angeles Lakers win the NBA title this past season, has a Hall of Fame resume. Paul is also a future Hall of Famer, winning back-to-back assists titles while playing under Rivers with the Clippers.
But both of those players are listed as 6-foot-1.
“Ben’s size is just striking when you stand next to him every day,” Rivers said of the 6-foot-10, 250-pounder.
Simmons’ size and versatility has enabled him to excel at numerous positions during his first three NBA seasons. He’s been a point guard, power forward and center at different points of a game. The 24-year-old also had success guarding all five positions, and folks noticed.
He was named an All-Star the past two seasons, led the league in steals (2.1 per game), and made first-team All-Defensive and third-team All-NBA this past season as a point guard.
However, Simmons was moved to power forward during the NBA restart in Kissimmee, Fla.
Hesitant to shoot, Simmons has had his struggles in the postseason where opponents routinely sagged off him defensively. So former coach Brett Brown opted to move Simmons inside, where he wouldn’t be a liability, and start Shake Milton, who has solid perimeter skills at point guard.
The thought was Simmons’ ability to impact a game as more of a scorer should become greater while playing power forward. He strived in the point forward role in scrimmages, but Simmons became less of an offensive factor in the seeding games once Milton became the primary ballhandler. Simmons, however, only played in three seeding games in the bubble due to knee surgery.
Now, one of the biggest questions heading into training camp was whether Rivers would utilize him as a point guard or point forward. Rivers calls him the team’s facilitator. Meanwhile, Simmons doesn’t see himself at just one position.
“Facilitator,” he said agreeing with Rivers. “Just a playmaker, you know. Coach wants me to make plays. And there’s numerous ways to do that.”
There’s scoring. There’s getting to the rim. There’s drawing defenders. There’s setting picks and finding teammates.
“So I think me having the ball is going to create different varieties of options, [and] is going to be tough for teams to guard,” he said. “Whether it’s me kicking it ahead or setting a pick or setting a backscreen for Joel, that’s going to be tough for guys to guard, especially when we have guys running around knocking down threes.”
While it has only been two practices, Rivers has been impressed with what he’s seen thus far. The coach has big expectations for Simmons.
Asked what he envisioned Simmons’ offensive usage to be this season, Rivers responded “being a terror, playing, going downhill...being aggressive, being a facilitator.”
“In transition, we want to open the floor and get the ball to Ben,” he added. “Tell him to go make something happen.
“So he had a good practice yesterday. He had an off-the-charts practice today.”