There was a time when James Harden and Tony Wroten were statistical peers.

During his second year with the Houston Rockets, Harden sported a usage rate of 27.6%, good for 22nd in the NBA. This was 2013-14, also the first season of The Process in Philly, which saw the 76ers’ 21-year-old Wroten finish fractionally behind the Rockets’ bearded one with a usage rate of 27.5%. Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, meanwhile, claimed a higher usage rate than Portland’s prolific Dame Lillard that season.

Usage rate gets thrown around casually by hoops nerds and NBA writers as a measure of offensive responsibility. Usage is determined by a simple formula that weighs minutes, shot attempts from both the field and the stripe, along with turnovers within the context of a team. It’s essentially a path to identifying which players are heavily influencing possessions for each team. For some historical context, Allen Iverson led the league in usage rate in 2000-2001 in addition to pacing the planet in TGI Friday’s expenditure and illegal usage of handicap parking spaces.

During the 2014-15 campaign—Harden scaled to seventh in the league in usage rate, just behind LeBron James. Amid an 18-win season in South Philly, Wroten likewise vaulted into the top tier of ball-dominant playmakers, finishing ninth in usage rate that season. Such unique autonomy saw Carter-Williams finish fifth in the league in drives to the basket per game as a rookie, and both he and Wroten rated in the top six in drives per game in 2014-15, both finishing just ahead of Russell Westbrook. We can keep going if you want (you don’t want); Ish Smith was somehow fifth in the entire league in drives per game with the Sixers and touched the ball more times per game than either of Kyrie Irving or James in 2015-16.

I’m pretty sure there is a point to this statistical bloviating, which is to frame the incredible offensive responsibilities coach Brett Brown has afforded his lead ball-handlers, even when they’ve been objectively terrible at assuming said duties.

For Wroten and Carter-Williams to have become usage peers of such productive league luminaries like Harden and James speaks to how hollow those Philly rosters proved; someone, and basically anyone, had to take those bad shots. Yet past the turnstile D-League caliber rosters Brown often worked with in his first two seasons at the helm, we found continued evidence of this thematic tendency to overload ball-handlers even during a more promising, Embiid-centric 2016-17 season.

This past season, the 76ers’ resident Danny Woodhead, one T.J. McConnell, ranked fifth in front court touches (the NBA calls them front court touches, but they are possessions in a halfcourt offense) per game from January on—just ahead of Isaiah Thomas, Ricky Rubio and Kyle Lowry. [I’m admittedly grateful McConnell doesn’t go by Timmy, because a scrappy Timmy McConnell might have broken the white guy grit scale.] The premise is clear; Brown affords his lead distributors atypical freedom to drive, pass and shoot in his up-tempo offense. Brown didn’t just rely on shitty and wasteful guard play as a last resort– the position appears elemental to his pace-and-space fueled scheme. The 76ers have finished between first and seventh in the league in pace—measured simply by possessions per 48 minutes—across Brown’s four seasons. The possession-hungry nature of Brown’s offensive agenda is arguably his greatest schematic departure from the Spurs’ archetype, a team often near the back of the league in possessions per game.

Enter pseudo forward and de facto point guard Ben Simmons—he of the four daily trips to the Camden practice facility. With such a high-usage role in Brown’s breakneck offense, Simmons’ qualities and weaknesses will be magnified to a degree even his live Instagram posts can’t match. As Crossing Broad’s own Kevin Love detailed, Simmons might just be a 7-foot Jason Kidd. I’m not quite as sold on the ascension of Simmons’ jump shot, but I’m confident that he can become a special force even if his jumper doesn’t become an asset. Per team tradition, Simmons skipped his first professional season due to injury, leaving us still scraping NCAA data for some statistical insights.

What do the NCAA numbers say about Simmons’ ability to assume the massive usage rate and isolation scoring (driving) freedom Brown will likely afford him? Turns out, this Australian kid was generational as a statistical contributor in college, as he’s the only NCAA player with both an assist percentage of at least 27% and a total rebounding rate of at least 18% since 2009-10. During his lone season in Louisiana, Simmons was 15th in the nation in 2-pointers made, fourth in attempted free throws and seventh in rebounds per game, while finishing 32nd in the country in steals per game (tops in steals of any player taller than 6-5). Collegiate steal rate has been valued as an identifiable and translatable category to the NBA level, as it’s an indicator of quickness. To consider his rare blend of boards and dimes in simpler terms over a far more substantial sample, Simmons is the only Division I player since 1993-94 with at least 150 assists and 380 rebounds in a single season.

Going the advanced route, let’s consider that Simmons was ninth overall in the nation in box plus minus (BPM), a box score based metric for evaluating the overall contribution to his team (which also reveals how shallow LSU’s roster was around him). Only D’Angelo Russell, his former high school teammate, and former pre-draft Sixers icon, posted a better BPM as a freshman over the past seven years. ESPN NBA analyst and spreadsheet wizard Kevin Pelton broke down Simmons’ statistical transition to the pros in the spring of 2016, “Simmons’ LSU stats translate to an NBA equivalent of a rebound rate near 15 percent and an assist rate near six per 100 plays. There’s precisely one NBA player who can meet both of those standards this season: Joakim Noah. Draymond Green (14.5 percent rebound rate) and Blake Griffin (13.5 percent) are close.”

Now remember, that’s referencing very-good-at-basketball Bulls era Noah, not the White Walker playing for the Knicks. Either way, this is pretty, pretty good company to keep, even if the connection only lives in Excel for now.

Only four NBA players at least 6-foot-7 averaged as many as seven rebounds and finished in the top 35 in assists in 2015-16 – with Green, James, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo among them – milestones which appear realistic to consider over the next few seasons given the team’s intent to deploy Simmons as a ball-dominant point forward. It’s additionally fun to consider Joel Embiid was third in the NBA in usage rate last season; suggesting Brown is more than willing to trust his young stars to drive the team.

Brown’s penchant for giving his lead playmakers keys to the kingdom extends to Markelle Fultz, as well. We can imagine Fultz will get plenty of work on the ball in addition to learning to run the screen maze from veteran sniper J.J. Redick. Fultz not only claims a higher assist rate than Lonzo Ball did last season (not bad considering Ball was more of a pure point guard), but he also became just the second freshman player since 2009 to post at least a 30% usage rate, 30% assist rate, and 55% true shooting clip (a measure of shooting efficiency at all three levels). Let’s recall Fultz is the first freshman to average at least 20 points, five rebounds and five assists since 1992-93. The potential for this gifted combo guard to capitalize on a rich allowance of opportunities appears promising.

There is a great experiment yet to unfold—one that somehow began with the likes of Wroten and MCW—the pairing of a giant, generational point forward in Simmons with a silky, and at times aloof, scoring prodigy in Fultz. Opening night will mark the first time two No. 1 overall picks debut together. It’s appropriate to get as excited as many Sixers fans are for the debut of this unique duo, especially given their coach will afford them every opportunity to succeed, and fail, as high-usage cogs.

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