How Simmons can thrive in NBA new world order
When Kawhi Leonard and Kevin Durant opted to join the LA Clippers and Brooklyn Nets in free agency this summer, it signified a seismic shift in the NBA's power structure.
Leonard and Durant had the chance to create a duopoly in the NBA between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Golden State Warriors but by spurning both teams, they – and KD's Achilles injury - left the field well and truly open.
Free agency as a whole signified in a shift in NBA team-building, with several teams going for a 'big two' structure as opposed to the 'big three' that had become commonplace in recent years.
The big two, essentially having two max-level players instead of three, allows the team to maintain depth on its bench with the salary required for a third max-level player dispersed among its role players.
Along with the Clippers and the Nets, the Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers are just some of the teams boasting the two-star structure.
The Lakers possess arguably the most dynamic of any duo around the league, with four-time MVP LeBron James paired with recently-acquired big man Anthony Davis.
The Bucks will pair the league's current MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo with All-Star guard Khris Middleton.
Philadelphia has its own MVP candidate in Joel Embiid alongside Australia's own Ben Simmons.
To say it's a big season for Simmons and the 76ers is an understatement.
The NBA is a cut-throat industry and the Sixers have now officially transitioned from a feel-good story to a bona fide contender. With that comes the pressure of expectation.
Heading into the fourth season of his career, Simmons has the chance to vault himself into the MVP conversation if he so wishes.
His first two years on the court have been impressive, having been named an All-Star last season on the back of 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game.
Since he entered the league, the talk around Simmons has been his jump-shot, or lack thereof.
Simmons' jumper will decide just how high he and the Sixers ascend, but in pre-season at least the signs have been positive, with the Aussie draining the first triple of his career.
To his credit, Simmons has been candid on the glaring hole in his game and has by all accounts taken the necessary steps to correct it.
"It's not that I don't need to do it; it's just something I'm working toward getting better at as a player," Simmons told reporters last week.
"As you do as a writer, everybody works to get better. Him behind the camera, you know, he wasn't the best the first day he started. And that's just my game. I'm confident in saying I'm not a great shooter. I'm getting better, though.
"It's a game. There's five people on the court. I lack something that I'm not as great at, but in other areas, I'm very great at. I run the floor as well as anybody, I'm physical, I can rebound the ball at 6'10", I'm a point guard (and) can guard one through five."
With the NBA champion Toronto Raptors losing Leonard, the Eastern Conference is now well and truly a two-team race, as long as Durant is out with his Achilles injury.
Simmons and the Sixers are on a collision course with Antetokounmpo's rampant Bucks, who finished with the NBA's best record last season.
The Sixers may have lost Jimmy Butler in free-agency to the Miami Heat, but did well to recoup dogged defender Josh Richardson in a sign-and-trade deal.
In addition to Richardson, the annual thorn in Embiid's side, Al Horford, arrived via free agency, while versatile forward Tobias Harris was also retained.
Horford's addition is a potential game-changer for Philly, with his well-balanced game giving the Sixers yet another proficient passer alongside both Embiid and Simmons.
By acquiring Horford, the Sixers should be able to entirely avoid the awful back-up centre minutes from last season when Embiid sat.
Toggling both Horford and Embiid through the centre position will not only give the Sixers a reliable five man for 48 minutes a night, but will also reduce the load on Embiid who can now rest without stressing about the Sixers' play falling off a cliff.
The Sixers boast as talented a starting five in the NBA as anyone and coach Brett Brown can legitimately go 10 deep on any given night.
Alongside Embiid and Simmons, who are excellent defensive players, the additions of Horford, Richardson and rookie Matisse Thybulle, the best defender in college basketball last season, should allow the Sixers to be the best defensive team in the NBA.
The Bucks, too, are under immense pressure to win now after being the NBA's young darling for numerous years.
Antetokounmpo's impending free agency is hanging over the franchise like a giant anvil and the outcome could be disastrous if the side falls well below expecations in 2019-20.
The Bucks were unable to retain point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who signed a big offer sheet with the Indiana Pacers over the off-season, and will need Eric Bledsoe to step up in his absence, particularly in the post-season.
While the Sixers have made splashy additions, the Bucks will look to maintain it's spot at the top of the Eastern Conference through internal development from the likes of Donte DiVincenzo and D.J. Wilson.
That brings us to the Western Conference, where the Golden State Warriors are out of the title picture for the time being with Durant gone and Klay Thompson injured.
There are five or six teams that may consider themselves contenders for the NBA title, but the two best bets both reside in Los Angeles in the Clippers and Lakers.
The Clippers and the Lakers are the two favourites among Vegas bookmakers, with both maintaining the two-star structure.
Leonard and fellow All-Star forward Paul George, who was acquired via a trade from Oklahoma city will form a devilish two-way wing combination that can match it with anyone.
Unlike most teams that add a star free agent, the Clippers were able to add Leonard without sacrificing the parts of the roster that made it a pesky eighth seed that pushed Durant's Warriors to six games in last year's playoffs.
Dynamic bench duo Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell still reside with the Clippers, while the likes of Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet and JaMychal Green complement Leonard and George well.
While the Clippers are at the start of their window of contention, the cross-town rival Lakers are well and truly on the clock.
The Lakers are forced to operate with more immediacy due to the advancing age of James, who will be 35 this December.
While is on-court play still remains excellent, the Lakers will be wary of over-burdening James, particularly after he suffered the first major injury of his career last season.
The addition of Davis should allow James to have a seamless transition into the No.2 role.
Due to suffering a raft of injuries last season with the Pelicans, Davis shifted to the background in conversations around who the NBA's best young stars are.
Still at just 26 years of age, Davis is primed to explode in Los Angeles, and James will make his life a hell of a lot easier.
The pair has only played in a handful of pre-season games together, but the chemistry has been elite from the first possession.
James has never played with a rim-runner of the ilk of Davis, while Davis has never played with a passer who can find him easy looks with the regularity that James does.
In addition to James, the Lakers also added some championship mettle with Danny Green who will start at the shooting guard spot.
The Lakers lacked shooting around James last season, but have addressed it with the addition of Green (career 40% 3PT), Avery Bradley (36% 3PT), Troy Daniels (40% 3PT) and Quinn Cook (42% 3PT) in the off-season.
While shooting won't be as big an issue, the Lakers will need Davis, a three-time All-Defensive player, to lead the side on the defensive end of the ball.
The eight-month race to the top of the NBA summit begins tomorrow. Which team will capitalise on the NBA's new world order and scale all the way to the top?