What we learned from a 117-106 win over the Nets on Wednesday night. . .
1) There are two sides to Ben Simmons’ offensive game, and the good side still outweighs the bad side.
The two things that Simmons’ critics tend to overlook with their focus on his nonexistent jump shot is the room that Simmons still has to grow as a slasher and finisher, as well as the improvement he has shown in both departments. Both of these facets were on display on a night where he finished with 20 points but missed several good looks at the rim, including a fast-break dunk attempt. For the most part, though, Simmons looked like the player he is going to need to be for as long as his repertoire is limited to the paint.
Witness a couple of plays that he made on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter. First, he stole an inbounds pass, then made a strong finish over Taurean Prince at the rim. The next time down the court, he exploited a gap in the Nets defense and finished with a layup despite Spencer Dinwiddie having wrapped him up from behind. As impressive as the sequence was, Simmons was at his finest in a first quarter in which he scored 12 points on a series of powerful drives to the rim.
The bad side of Simmons was on display in the second quarter, when the Nets moved center Jarrett Allen over to guard him. It was the the kind of matchup where it would be helpful if Allen felt compelled to guard him beyond 15 feet. It would help Simmons, and it would help every other player on the court. Consider a possession with 4:54 left in the second quarter, when a switch left Al Horford with a seal on the drastically undersized Dinwiddie. While there might have been a play for Furkan Korkmaz to make, he was deterred from making the pass by a lurking Allen, who was creeping from the opposite block and would have been in position to contest the shot. On a normal basketball team, that would have left Simmons all alone for a catch-and-shoot. But, well . . .
This is a problem that is not going away, as anybody reading this undoubtedly surmised long before Wednesday evening. But just in case the point needed reinforcing, the Nets later gave the Simmons assignment to DeAndre Jordan, who, by the end of his shift, would not have been disqualified from a game of Twister if the paint were a blue spot. I don’t know if the wording of that analogy actually translated from my head to the page, but the point is that Jordan never had more than one foot outside the lane the whole time he was guarding Simmons (which, admittedly, was only a few possessions, thanks to a finger injury he sustained while contesting a transition layup attempt).
That being said, Simmons was as big a reason as any that the Sixers were able to win this one, despite their inability to slow down long-time nemesis Dinwiddie, who finished with 26 points.
2) The Sixers are still leaving way too many points on the court.
It isn’t difficult to see why they are mentioned as a potential trade destination for virtually every wing or guard who has a better-than-average chance at knocking down an open catch-and-shoot three-pointer. At this point, one of the big questions is whether said acquisition would find himself in a position to get some of the opportunities that are currently going to Al Horford. The Sixers’ win over the Nets on Wednesday was another tough one for their marquee free-agent acquisition, who missed 10 of the 14 shots he took, including 9 of 11 from behind the arc.
This was a different situation than the one in which Horford has struggled to acclimate for the majority of the season. With Joel Embiid still in the early stages of his recovery from surgery to repair a torn ligament in his finger, Horford again started at the five. But with the Sixers enjoying a significant size advantage at the other four positions on the court, he spent much of the night spacing the floor beyond the arc. As has been the case when he has played the four next to Embiid, the results were less than ideal.
Horford missed nine of his first 11 shots, including six out of seven from three-point range, before finally burying a shot from deep with eight minutes remaining that gave the Sixers a 100-96 lead. When Horford signed a four-year deal this offseason, the hope was that the latter play would not be such an outlier. But we’ve reached a point of the season where any discussion about the Sixers’ need for shooting has to include significant consideration of his struggles.
Horford entered the night averaging a career-high 6.4 three-point attempts per 100 possessions, while connecting on exactly 34 percent of them. That’s not an especially bad percentage for a big, but given the composition of the Sixers’ starting lineup, the result has been a number of valuable open looks going uncapitalized upon. Again, this isn’t as much a consideration for now as it is for when Embiid returns and the Sixers have some flexibility with regard to optimizing their offense.
That being said, Horford wasn’t the only Sixer who struggled to capitalize on his looks against the Nets. In the end, they were bailed out by a dynamite performance by Furkan Korkmaz, who hit 3-of-6 from deep and finished with 15 points in 21 minutes.
3) Tobias Harris should probably start getting some credit.
He’s never going to be a guy that appears to be dominating a game. But in scoring 34 points on 14-of-20, he was exactly the scorer the Sixers are going to need him to be for as long as Embiid remains sidelined.