When I look at Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons, I see a very tall and extremely talented young basketball player with a resting dick face and no jump shot. When Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens looks at him, he sees a curious foraging bear. For this reason, he is a basketball coaching genius.
That’s my main takeaway from this very good and smart piece by The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, which does a fine job of showing the elegant tactical means whereby Stevens and the Celtics have neutralized Simmons and fellow Sixers star Joel Embiid and taken control of the second-round playoff series between the two teams. In Embiid’s case, the Celtics have maneuvered the giant center away from the basket at both ends of the floor, to areas where he’s less effective and where his shaky conditioning can be depleted. When the Celtics have the ball, that means using screens to get him on players who must be chased out to the three-point line; when the Sixers have the ball, that means sagging off him at the three-point line and making him wrestle to get within 18 feet of the rim.
In Simmons’s case, the goal is similar, at least when the Sixers have the ball: Keep him away from the rim. This is especially important, and has proven most difficult for opponents, in transition situations: Simmons often is too fast for forwards to cut off when he has a full head of steam, and too powerful for guards to resist once he gets his shoulders into them. But the potential rewards of keeping him away from the hoop are worth the effort: He’s a downright pathological non-shooter, and the Sixers’ offense often completely breaks down once all 10 players arrive to clog up the half-court and his defender can help off him with impunity. It’s no exaggeration to say that when Simmons can’t rumble to the rim in transition, he’s generally less effective than his backup, T.J. McConnell, who at least is an extremely pesky defender.
In any event, as O’Connor illustrates, Stevens and the Celtics have figured out an effective technique for addressing this challenge. You can see it demonstrated by Aron Baynes, in the number 46 jersey, here in this GIF from O’Connor’s article:
He stands his ground and puts his arms out wide, to make himself big. That’s how you ward off Ben Simmons in transition. It’s also how you ward off a bear in the dang woods!
I think the Celtics should go all the way with this. If the arms-out stand-your-ground technique works, imagine how much more effective it would be if Baynes were wearing a coat or had a blanket draped over his shoulders, to make himself appear truly huge! Imagine if he were banging a pair of metal pots together!
That part might be against the rules, I guess. But he could clap his hands really hard and scream, “HEY! HEY!!!!!” very loudly and, like, advance a step or two toward Simmons. If you can protect a jar of peanut butter this way, you can protect a hoop, too.