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Sixers’ point guard plan without Ben Simmons: ‘Win with what we have’

Trading for a pure point guard would help the offense flow better, but for now, the Sixers are using a collective effort to move the ball.

Shake Milton got the start at point guard on Thursday, scoring five points with four assists and two turnovers.
Shake Milton got the start at point guard on Thursday, scoring five points with four assists and two turnovers.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

It was an obvious question based on Ben Simmons’ holdout, and how the 76ers have operated without him through two preseason games.

Sixers coach Doc Rivers had just talked about how point guards Shake Milton and Tyrese Maxey need to find a happy medium in running the team and being aggressive. That’s understandable, considering Maxey and Milton are more or less shooting guards filling in as point guards until Simmons likely gets traded.

They spent a lot of time dribbling the ball up the court, handing it off on the perimeter, and sliding to a corner in Thursday’s 125-113 preseason victory over the Toronto Raptors at the Wells Fargo Center.

So Rivers was asked if the Sixers need a point guard to come in and run the team.

“I’m fine. Like if we can get one, great,” he said. “I don’t worry about what we don’t have. You’re talking to the wrong guy. We are going to win with what we have. That’s the way I’ve always thought.”

But trading for a pure point guard would help the offense flow better. Tobias Harris, who played point forward at times last season, is the team’s best initiator of the offense.

Perhaps knowing that, the Sixers ran a chunk of their half-court sets through the power forward and center Joel Embiid on Thursday. Harris and Embiid passed to cutting teammates on the perimeter and found open three-point shooters. There was also a collective effort by the Sixers (1-1) to move the ball.

» READ MORE: Ben Simmons to Pacers? Would Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert and a pick be enough for Sixers?

“We know we can get into isolation situations,” Harris said. “But really the gist of what we’ve been working on in training camp is allowing the ball to move around playing off each other, allowing that to be our system of basketball. ... Overall, if we can learn how to play off each other and have a lot of ball movement, that makes us a better team.”

Milton got the start Thursday after coming off the bench against the Raptors (1-1) on Monday.

He had five points on 2-for-5 shooting to go with four assists and two turnovers in 25 minutes, 16 seconds. This came after scoring three points while making 1 of 6 shots to go with a team-high five assists and four turnovers in 19 minutes during Monday’s 123-107 setback to Toronto.

Maxey looked more comfortable Thursday while playing with the second unit. In this role, he can come in and score instead of focusing on finding teammates.

He had 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go with a team-high five assists, one turnover and being a game-best plus-22 in 21:02. The second-year player finished with 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting, three assists, and four turnovers in 21:15 as Monday’s starter.

But Rivers doesn’t think his distinct result had anything to do with starting or coming off the bench.

“I just think he was more comfortable [Thursday],” Rivers said. “I thought the first game was the first game. I think if I had started him [Thursday], he would have been comfortable [Thursday]. I just thought the first game wasn’t a great game for any of us.”

Rivers said before and after Thursday’s game that “it’s a competition” for the point guard position. Well, sort of.

“We are just going to get through camp and let them both play,” he said. “As I keep saying, I don’t know if this is a team that has a starting lineup. It’s just going to be different guys on different nights and that’s how we are going to play.”

» READ MORE: Embiid and Harris return, balanced scoring leads to comfortable Sixers preseason win vs. Raptors

But alternating point guards usually means you’re not confident enough in one to become your full-time starter.

Maxey remains a work in progress as a starter. He may get there. But right now, he appears better suited to a reserve role on a team with championship aspirations.

Meanwhile, Milton is unsteady with the ball under pressure.

The Sixers know they don’t have a true point guard. As a result, it makes sense that they’re running their half-court offense through Harris and Embiid. You want to get the ball into the hands of your best players.

“I feel like we are definitely going to run more pick-and-rolls,” Embiid said. “That’s something that we haven’t done [a lot] in the past. So I think it’s all about what we do best. You know me personally helping those guys. My job is really to help those guys not necessarily scoring.

“I want to be a better playmaker this year. Kind of use the advantage we have in me and kind of making these guys better.”