Mailbag: Ben Simmons' role under Doc Rivers, Sixers trade targets, and the PlayStation 5 release

The Sixers offseason keeps on rolling, and the Eagles keep on doing whatever the heck it is they’re doing, and that means you have a lot of questions for a Friday mailbag. For that, I am thankful. Stay tuned for a bonus mailbag later this weekend.

This week, questions are all over the map, ranging from Ben Simmons’ role to the putrid NFC East to an assortment of video game/PlayStation 5 questions.

As always, you are free to ask me questions at any time through Twitter, email, the comment section, or any other place where you can find your boy. I can’t promise I will get to or answer them all, but I try my best. On to the questions.

I go back and forth on this pretty much every day. Doc Rivers has not taken a hardline stance on this one yet. He waxed poetic to reporters about his desire to play positionless basketball when we first spoke to him, and I do genuinely believe he means what he says there. Rivers doesn’t care where the points come from as long as they’re being put on the board.

In a sitdown interview with Sixers.com’s Brian Seltzer that was released this week (recorded right after his initial presser), Rivers gave an interesting answer about what drew him to Philadelphia, and he punctuated it with the following sentence about their setup:

“Joel [Embiid] is going to be your five,” Rivers said. “Other than that, everyone else is in flux.”

It’s certainly not the sort of bold-faced, immediate commitment to Simmons playing point guard (or point forward) we saw from Brett Brown. That leaves plenty of wiggle room for Rivers to do what he sees fit with Simmons, assuming he can get him on board.

But I think Simmons’ role will be defined less by Rivers’ instruction and more by what the front office decides to do about the roster situation. If they don’t make any major moves, Simmons is going to take a heavy creative burden again by absolute necessity. If they do make a move to get a legit guard to run the show, of course he’ll do less there and focus more on finishing and “bully ball” offensively.

It would probably take the acquisition of a true lead guard for Simmons to buy into that concept. I think it was easy for him to get on board with playing nominal forward at the end of last season because Shake Milton was the guy taking over. The hierarchy there is still pretty clear, allowing Simmons to dictate terms as he sees fit. Bring in Chris Paul and it’s another matter entirely.

No, but I also think it depends on how this year shakes out and how they approach the trade deadline. There have been conflicting reports on whether they’ll be buyers or sellers, and they almost certainly should be in the latter category.

That doesn’t necessarily preclude them from winning the division, because the rest of the NFC East stinks on ice. They have the best QB left standing (not saying much obviously), a defensive line that has played really well over about the last month, and a coach with a history of maintaining buy-in with the players. Those three factors alone might be enough to get it done. And it’s probably why they’re currently the favorites to win the division at DraftKings, according to TheLines.com.

But any short-term move to get them there — trading picks for marginal upgrades, playing aging veterans over guys they can develop, etc. — can’t happen. You don’t have to dismantle the team and take the spirit out of the locker room entirely, but you have to take a sober look at where you are and how far you need to go. Anyone who isn’t on board with that, player or otherwise, should be out of here.

Speaking as someone who has lost a decent amount of flexibility as I’ve gotten older and was never super flexible to begin with, it has to be the karate kick. Far more moving parts involved to land a satisfying kick than, say, a chop to the jugular. Not that I would really know either way.

I am pretty far out on Oladipo generally at the moment. There are a lot of unknowns with him moving forward. Is he going to stay healthy? Does he want to play in Philadelphia? And perhaps most importantly, is he a good fit next to the core players they already have in place?

Oladpio’s one season of star-level basketball was a very good one, but it’s fair to wonder if the touch he showed in 2018-19 was a bit of an outlier. Most people will focus on the career-high percentage from deep (a stellar 37.1 percent that season), but I would argue his finishing at the rim was just as significant to his breakout. Oladipo shot 69 percent on shots from three feet and in that year, a number that dropped nearly nine percent in his abbreviated follow-up season and a number he had never come close to in any other year.

With his health and explosiveness in some doubt moving forward, a drop in effectiveness attacking the basket could be looming. His touch is decent elsewhere, but not enough to sustain him on offense if he’s a lesser threat going to the rim. And with the Simmons/Embiid combo already dealing with spacing issues, they’re not exactly the right team to gamble on him. 

It always depends on the framework of the deal, though. If you can build a package the Pacers want around, say, Josh Richardson, a pick, and salary-matching contracts, that’s a different story. But at that point, it feels like Indiana would just hope he turns the corner this season so they can deal him at the deadline. 

The second part is where I think things fall apart here. Rivers is in a better place than Brown by virtue of being a new voice alone, but there’s a lot of assuming he’s going to come in, wave a magic wand, and get two stubborn introverts on board with whatever he wants to do. Didn’t we see that go wrong in L.A. this past season, even with better (and more tactically flexible) players?

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One of the problems with the Sixers’ dynamic is that both guys are trying to ascend at the same time while neither really helps the other’s growth, at least offensively. They succeed together but it’s a disconnected sort of success. The pet plays that work best for Embiid rarely have Simmons involved, and vice versa. 

That might work if one of these guys was a veteran who had been through it all before and either A) commanded so much respect that the young guy followed his lead or B) willingly altered his own game to better synergize with the younger guy. Selling sacrifice to either guy at this stage is really difficult because both likely feel they have more to offer and could get there with increased pliability around them.

This is what people are really asking when “Do these guys like each other?” comes up as a topic on a sports debate show. They don’t have to be best friends. But if they are going to win together, one of them has to show enough respect and admiration for the other to fundamentally change how they play to get there. That’s the biggest hurdle between this team and contention, all other self-inflicted issues aside.

Always has been, always will be, effective or not.

I want to say Sacramento for obvious reasons, but they just had a changing of the guard in the front office, so not sure that’s on the table anymore.

I’m not totally sure he’s movable, by the way, despite insisting and believing all offseason that it’ll be easier to deal him than Harris. Are the teams desperate for relevance (a la Charlotte) really going to get fired up to pay a declining Horford a bunch of money when there’s no guarantee teams will even have fans at games next year? Does a fringe contender see enough value in him still to take that chance? I just don’t know. Think you could make a credible sales pitch, but it’s not a lock he’s outta here.

This is the start of video game/PlayStation 5 questions. You have been warned.

If we’re talking about new launch titles — games that haven’t been seen or released elsewhere already by the time these consoles launch — it’s Sony by a mile. Look at this comparison chart between the two consoles (h/t to IGN):

Screen Shot 2020-10-22 at 3.09.27 PM.png

Assuming Sony didn’t really screw something up, the Demon Souls remaster and Spider-Man game are in a completely different class from anything else listed here. There are a lot more games that are going to be available on Xbox via free upgrade from previous-gen versions, but I’m not buying a new console for old experiences (though I will be happy to play older games with 60 FPS, for sure). Otherwise, I would just roll with my PS4 for a little while longer.

While we’re on that subject…

I don’t begrudge anyone who is a MS/Xbox loyalist, and I do think they have added some legitimately compelling features/services that are good for the overall marketplace. GamePass is a potential gamechanger in the same way Netflix once was for movies and TV.

The big problem for me as a consumer is that any game worth playing on Xbox is going to be available on PC as well, which is not the case for all of Sony’s best exclusives. There’s no real argument for me to own an Xbox when owning a PlayStation (or even a Switch) in addition to a moderately-priced computer allows me to play everything I’d want to play.

(That’s without my personal taste factoring in, either. I don’t have much interest in a lot of the big MS exclusives like Gears or Forza, and Halo lost its luster a long time ago.)

Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are two of my favorite games of all-time, and the basis of the Metroidvania genre I hold very close to my heart. Making me choose between one or the other is cruel.

Gun to my head, I would probably say Metroid. The Metroid Prime series is great and different in a way most of the Castlevania games have never tried to be. If only Nintendo pretended to care about it. 

I’m very fired up for Demon Souls, since I never had a PS3 and enjoy those games generally. Of the games not in the immediate launch window, the new Horizon game is one of the few open-world games I can get excited for as my time to play games dwindles. The original Horizon is one of the few games where I felt legitimately compelled to read through a lot of the text logs and lore for the game as I explored it. They did an excellent job building out that world in a way that made you learn more about it, and when you add the combat, general exploration, and beauty of that game, I can’t wait for a second one.

(A sleeper here: the sequel to Hollow Knight, which is in development already but isn’t a PS5 exclusive. I love the first game to pieces.)

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