Ben Simmons ready to act as 'facilitator' for Philadelphia 76ers' offense

Last season, one of the most scrutinized things about a much-scrutinized Philadelphia 76ers team was which position Ben Simmons was playing.

He began the season, as he had the prior two, as the team's point guard. When the Sixers arrived inside the NBA's bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, he was playing power forward.

But now that Philadelphia is preparing for a new season -- and doing so with a new coach in Doc Rivers -- Simmons is back to playing his old position.

"Yeah, if you want to put me in that position," Simmons said when asked if he would be back at point guard this season. "But yeah, facilitator. Just a playmaker. Coach wants me to make plays. ... There's numerous ways to do that. There's scoring, getting to the rim, drawing defenders, there's setting picks, and just creating options.

"So just me having the ball and being able to create different varieties of options is going to be tough for teams to guard, whether it's me kicking it ahead and setting a pick and setting a back screen for [Joel Embiid], it's going to be tough for guys to guard, especially when we have guys running around knocking down 3s."

Part of the difficulty with figuring out the right way to deploy Simmons a year ago was the cramped spacing the Sixers had offensively. Gone were the shooting-heavy lineups around Simmons and Embiid that had seen much success early in their careers, and in their place were groupings that left little room to operate on the court because of the lack of a deep threat.

This offseason, new Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has gone out of his way to change that, trading Al Horford for Danny Green, and Josh Richardson for Seth Curry. Doing so not only put two elite shooters on the wings but also slid Tobias Harris to his natural position of power forward, where he will be a more versatile offensive threat at that spot than Horford, a center playing out of position himself, was last year.

The result should be an offense that, the Sixers hope, can replicate what it looked like when Simmons and Embiid were partnered with JJ Redick, Robert Covington and Dario Saric in the 2017-18 season -- a group that outscored opponents by 20.5 points per 100 possessions in 601 minutes together.

"The spacing is huge, but it also comes down to us knowing where to be and in the right spots and following our guidelines," Simmons said. "Somebody is in a certain position and we know the other man needs to cut, that's just going to make it easier. We're just going to read and play off each other, and just continue to make the right plays."

It's been clear over the first week the Sixers have been together that Rivers wants his team to push the tempo. While that might not be ideal for Embiid, it is perfect for Simmons, one of the fastest players in the league, even at 6-foot-10.

It all plays into what Rivers wants Simmons to do: wreak havoc on his opponents as often as he can, particularly in the open court.

"Just being a terror," Rivers said. "Playing. Going downhill. Making guys guard you. Being aggressive. Being a facilitator. In transition, we want to open the floor and get the ball to Ben. Tell him to go make something happen."

And while Rivers wouldn't officially label Simmons his point guard, he was happy to call him something similar: the team's "facilitator" this season.

"He's our facilitator, for sure," Rivers said. "Unless I have a true, true point guard, like a Chris Paul or Rajon Rondo, I rarely ... I don't think I called anybody a point guard the entire year last year [with the Clippers].

"But Ben is clearly our facilitator, and Ben is special, man. When he gets the ball in the open floor, there's very few like him. And we want to get him the ball in the open floor to let him be special."

Another thing Rivers has stressed early on is increased communication between Simmons and Embiid on the court. He's said the two will run pick-and-rolls much more often this season -- something they rarely did in the past -- and wants them to play off each other.

Rivers said he has already seen some of that beginning to develop in practice, but he needs it to be coming from them, rather than from Rivers or his offensive coordinator, former Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, as far as making the calls to do it.

"One thing I think we're really trying to get them to do is to play more two-man games with each other," Rivers said. "They had a great one today that was just a distinctive action, that Dave Joerger and I were laughing like, 'You're not stopping that.' But they have to do it instinctively more than us always having to call it. And, if they can do that, they're going to be tough to stop."

For his part, Simmons said building that chemistry between them is a work in progress.

"Just connecting and building our chemistry in terms of where and when he wants me to cut, me reading the defense and knowing when I should cut, get to the rim, slash or whether I'm spotting up and shooting the shot," Simmons said. "So just reading off Jo, we're going to continue to get better and build our chemistry on the floor, especially with this new team and new players surrounding us. I think it's just going to be great because everyone is really buying in."