MIAMI — Ben Simmons presents a unique challenge for the Heat.
Simmons is a 6-foot-10, 230-pound point guard who took 88.1 percent of his shots from inside the paint this season. The 21-year-old only attempted 11 threes and missed all of them, and shot 30-of-119 from outside the paint (25.2 percent).
This unorthodox style has been effective, as Simmons overcame his outside shooting struggles to average 15.8 points on 54.5 percent shooting, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists this season.
“Ben is himself,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “He’s a player that Ben wants to be. A lot of people, just like with others, they’re going to compare him to other guys. He’s made his own way into the NBA playing his style of basketball. He’s leading the team. He’s doing amazing as a young player every night consistently, bring a game that wins.”
How will the Heat defend Simmons?
Like other teams, they will try to push him away from the basket and into taking shots from the perimeter by packing the paint and sagging off him. But opponents have used that strategy all season when defending Simmons and it hasn’t worked much.
When facing Simmons this season, the Heat rotated between 6-foot-6 Josh Richardson, 6-foot-7 Justise Winslow and 6-foot-8 James Johnson as his primary defender. While Richardson was the one guarding Simmons most of the time in Miami’s first matchup against Philadelphia, the Heat turned to Winslow and Johnson over the teams’ final three meetings of the regular season.
That adjustment was made after Simmons scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the first game of the season series on Feb. 2, with 11 of those shot attempts coming within five feet of the basket. Winslow (225 pounds) and Johnson (240 pounds) are able to use a more physical style against Simmons than the 200-pound Richardson.
With Winslow and Johnson as the primary defenders on Simmons over the past three matchups, he averaged 13.0 points on 50.0 percent shooting. The encouraging aspect is that just 19 of his 34 shots came from within five feet of the basket during that three-game stretch, a better ratio than the first game the two teams faced off.
But defending Simmons will require even more adjustments from the Heat over the course of the series. Game 1 on Saturday is just the start.
“They’re well-coached so they’re very organized offensively in terms of playing to their strengths,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But it’s a very similar concept to the old Boston Celtics teams with [Rajon] Rondo, but you’re seeing somebody 6-10 doing the same things. So if you go soft or you go under he’s turning it into a foot race, but he’s 6-10 with a 7-foot wingspan. One dribble and he’s at the rim. You’re not catching him in that race. So you have to impact and meet the ball at some point and that’s what we’ll have to figure out — where that line of demarcation is for us in the next couple of days.”
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