One thing to monitor as this Sixers season unfolds will be Brett Brown’s ability to manufacture and exploit mismatches using Ben Simmons’ unique combination of size and ball-handling ability.
On Wednesday, the Wizards used long-limbed wingman Otto Porter as their primary defender against Simmons when he was on the court with Robert Covington at the four spot (the starting lineup was 1 – Simmons, 2 – Redick, 3 – Bayless, 4 – Covington, 5 – Embiid, though Redick and Bayless guarded the guards and Simmons guarded the four). While Simmons clearly had the edge on the dribble, Porter appeared to do a decent job of contesting shots (Simmons’ finishing ability will be something else to watch over time).
Yet there were moments when you really saw the difficulty teams might have against Simmons. For instance, there were a couple of stretches when Brown went with a bigger lineup, putting Dario Saric in at the four with Joel Embiid at the five and Simmons essentially playing a three defensively. That forced Washington to take Porter off Simmons and put him on Saric, leaving a guard to cover Simmons.
There were a handful of possessions on which Simmons ended up on a guard, and a couple on which the Sixers failed to take full advantage. But there was a possession late in the second quarter that illustrated the impact Simmons can have even when he does not get the ball with his back to the basket in such situations.
In the video below, you’ll see Porter guarding Saric on the wing with three other Sixers spaced around the three-point line. Marcin Gortat is denying Embiid, whose shooting ability forces the defender to play out. John Wall is on Jerryd Bayless and Jodie Meeks is on J.J. Redick as Simmons goes to work in the high post on Bradley Beal.
Right off the bat, you can see how much of a size advantage Simmons has on Beal, and with Gortat playing out on Embiid, the weak-side help is limited to a couple of guards who have two capable three-point shooters lurking behind them.
Keep your eye on Meeks on the weak-side block. He’s got Redick behind him in the corner, but he’s also responsible for help on Simmons. As you can see, if Saric throws an entry lob, that help is most definitely going to be needed.
Meeks has eyes. He’s been around a long time. He knows what the deal is. And, finally, he bites.
There’s really nothing the Wizards can do in a situation like that. It’s the kind of dilemma created by a team that features a 7-foot-3 center who can pop the three and a 6-foot-10 point guard who can easily beat most forwards off the dribble.