Ben Simmons’s Defense Does Not Rest

     We are going to start this out by bringing back a very old game: Two Truths And A Lie (see answer below)

Ben Simmons is the best perimeter defender in the NBA.
Ben Simmons once dunked on a giraffe.
Ben Simmons’s defensive on/off split in 2021 is a negative.

76ers fans have been watching Ben Simmons display a combination of power, speed and athleticism not seen in the city of Philadelphia since the days of Reggie White and Charles Barkley. He has the court vision of LeBron and Magic, could rebound in traffic, and if opponents allowed him to get out in the open floor with the ball, opponents were certain to regret it.

Unfortunately, despite these strengths, Ben Simmons also arrived in Philadelphia with one minor flaw.

He refused to shoot from more than five feet away from the rim.

This flaw became the overwhelming narrative for the first three seasons of his career, after having to sit out the year he was drafted with a foot injury.

In the 2019-2020 preseason, he hit the first three-pointer of his professional career in a pre-season game against the Guangzhao Loong Lions. He hit the first official three of his NBA career about six weeks later against the New York Knicks. Sadly, these shots, and the ongoing conversation surrounding his general unwillingness to launch more attempts from behind the arc, overshadowed a development in Ben Simmons’s game.

He was slowly becoming one of the best defenders in the NBA.

This should not have been such a surprising development. After all, he’d received 11 votes for All-Defense (5 first team) in his rookie season. And he was still unlearning many of the terrible defensive habits he developed during a disappointing season playing at LSU.

In the ensuing seasons, Simmons was getting more and more acclimated to the speed and intricate nature of defending NBA players, learning how to be physical without fouling and how to use his size to frustrate smaller, quicker guards.

As the 2020 season ended, Simmons was out with a knee injury suffered in the seeding games after the NBA’s five-month Covid-19 shutdown. As the 76ers were unceremoniously dismissed from the playoffs in four straight games by the Boston Celtics, the conversation about Simmons’s defense, ball handling and vision grew smaller and smaller in favor of complaints about his lack of shooting. Seemingly every NBA blog presented trades where Simmons would be dealt for James Harden, Bradley Beal and others.

Finally, in January, a failed trade negotiation with the Houston Rockets in which Simmons would be traded, with draft picks for the aforementioned Harden was one of the biggest trending topics as Harden was eventually dealt to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for virtually every first-round pick the Nets have until 2027. Suddenly, it appeared that Simmons had been experimenting with Bruce Banner’s gamma radiation, because he was angry…and 76ers’ opponents were not going to like it when he was angry.

He began to show more aggression on the offensive end, but even more on the defensive end. He appeared to take pleasure in making miserable the lives of prolific scorers like Kemba Walker (just nine points in the 2nd half of two games), Jerami Grant (11 points on 3-19 shooting, ending a 14-game 20-point scoring streak), De’Aaron Fox (11 points on 4-17 shooting in the 2nd half after a 23-point first-half outburst) and, finally, Damian Lillard (9 points on 2-13 in the 2nd half after a 21-point first half)

All of this led to a nationally televised showdown against Luka Doncic on February 26th. Doncic came in red-hot, averaging 31.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 8.9 assists over his last 16 games, and leading Dallas to seven wins in nine games. This included a thriller over Boston in which Doncic hit two step-back three-pointers that could only be described as soul-crushing to Boston fans.

Ben Simmons decided to make Doncic his personal cause. Not only was he not going to let him score, but he also was not going to let him shoot. He stalked Doncic like a lion stalking a hornbill. Per The Athletic’s Derrick Bodner, Doncic shot 3 for 9 in attempts when Simmons was defending him, including just 1-5 on three-point attempts.

But there was one play in the Dallas game that truly defined the defensive genius of Ben Simmons. Simmons is checking Doncic as Willie Cauley-Stein dribbles to the left for a dribble handoff action, I think with either Burke or Brunson. Simmons leaves Doncic and steals the ball from behind. Normally, you would say it is insane to leave your man in any situation to go for a steal, especially when the man you are leaving is a world-class offensive player. The scramble to recover is most likely to result in a bucket, a foul or both. However, Simmons's route to the play was so perfect that even if Cauley-Stein picked up the ball, he will not be getting a pass back to Doncic (as his back is turned), plus the screen action is getting blown up (with the presence of Simmons, who would now be on the front side of the action) AND the fact it was close enough to the sideline to use it as a defender. Simmons stole the ball from Cauley-Stein, picked his head up and led Joel Embiid with a perfect pass for a dunk.

Ben Simmons was named third-team All-NBA in 2020. He started out the 2020-2021 season in an offensive funk but has rebounded in a serious way since the proposed Harden trade fell through, averaging 17.8 points with 7.8 rebounds and 7.8 assists in 17 games. If he continues his upward trajectory, he could be looking at not only another All-NBA nod, but a Defensive Player of The Year trophy for his mantle as well.

For the record – Simmons IS widely acknowledged as the best perimeter defender in the NBA, but his defensive on-off split in 2021 is -.4 points/100 possessions. Much of this is likely due to a few early attempts at using Simmons as a rim-protecting small-ball 5 that did not go well.

Finally, Ben Simmons has never dunked on a giraffe. At least, not that I am aware of. If you have video of this happening, please hit me up on Twitter @Drfunkenstein24.

Go to top button