Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers have recently been touted as the next great NBA franchise. On Sunday morning, they got taught a basketball lesson by the champion side they aspire to be.
The Golden State Warriors routed the 76ers in Oakland, emphatically running away with the game after half time.
As far as Simmons is concerned, this was the most labour-intensive game of his young career. He used 19 shooting possessions (17 field goals plus 2 fouls drawn on shooting fouls) and finished with a meagre 13 points.
Golden State –-with defensive length and size Simmons has never before seen on a basketball court– deployed a game plan that emphasised the young Australian’s weaknesses. Unfazed by Simmons’ shooting prowess, the sole focus was to deny penetration and eliminate Simmons’ driving lanes. And with Draymond Green acting as his primary defender, the Warriors had one of the NBA’s best stoppers leading the charge.
With Green quarterbacking the defence, the likes of Zaza Pachulia and David West were also glued to Simmons in the half court. The trifecta ensured Simmons’s path to the basket was never clear.
West and Pachulia – both plodding defenders at best – even had success against Simmons because the game plan was so clear. They just needed to keep the Australian contained and allow the length of the Warriors team defence to shade help from the weak side.
Golden State executed their plan to near perfection. Simmons only took three attempts at the rim, with one of those coming from a crafty steal and transition sequence. He was unable to attack efficiently in the half court as driving lanes were eliminated. Fourteen of Simmons attempts came from between 7 and 15 feet, a dead zone for efficient NBA offences, and many of these were contested.
Green is arguably the best defender in basketball and he was prepared for the rookie.
Green is guarding Simmons but he isn’t ‘guarding’ the man. Instead, he is guarding the space Simmons loves to attack. For the entirely of the above play, Green shows zero respect to Simmons’ outside stroke. He is simply clogging the lane and denying the space Philadelphia loves to attack.
Every 76ers’ game is sprinkled with two man sets where Simmons will enter the ball to Joel Embiid in the post, before slashing through the defence. Green blows up that entire plan by standing in front of Embiid –in effect creating a double team-– and forcing Simmons to improvise as the shot clock runs down. A lazy pass and turnover ensues, one of four committed by Simmons.
Green, along with Kevin Durant, utilised similar tactics to regularly deny entry passes from Simmons to Embiid in the post.
Both Simmons and the 76ers have emphasised creativity on offence this season, inverting standard alignments, and leveraging outside shooting as a work around to Simmons’ flimsily range. It has worked well for the most part but was found wanting against the NBA’s elite.
Simmons’s struggles are to be expected. The Warriors’ ungodly abundance of talent will test the weaknesses of every opponent. This is far from an indictment on the rookie. It does, however, reinforce the improvement areas within his arsenal. These are the same issues that were raised after Simmons’ performances in Summer League and the preseason. While Simmons has been better than anyone expected, there are still a ways to go.