As the NBA comes closer to a return we will see the final push for the end of season awards occur as well. It is uncertain how much weight the remaining games in Orlando will carry toward the decisions, but all players will be looking to kick off the rust and play their best as soon as possible. The MVP seems to be between Giannis and LeBron, Ja Morant will most likely take ROY, but the Defensive Player of the year race is a little more open. However, this race seems to be short of a guy who is more than worthy of being in the conversation: Ben Simmons.
The players on this shortlist ahead of Ben are all worthy defenders, but Simmons has more than earned his spot in the conversation with them. First off, Simmons’ versatility sets him apart from just about every other player in the league. Ben can guard all 5 positions on the court and has proven to do so throughout the season. In the 54 games he played in this year, Ben spent 22% of the time guarding PG’s, 25.2% guarding SG’s, 25.4% against SF, 18.% of the time on PF, and 9.4% of the time matched up with the opposing Center. Kawhi Leonard had the most versatile defensive season of his career and is statistically just a few notches behind Ben in this regard, but none of the other names on the list come close to him in this regard.
In addition to this, Simmons has stepped up into the role of locking down the opposition’s number 1 scorer with Butler having left this offseason. When it came to crunch time this year, Simmons guarded a core player or “a player that has played at least 35 clutch possessions in the regular season and has been on the floor for at least 75% of his team’s clutch possessions,” more than anyone else in the league. Throughout the whole game, Ben has guarded the opposing teams “option 1” at the 3rd highest rate in the league out of players playing at least 1000 minutes this year. With active hands and a distinctive 6’10 frame and 7’0 wingspan, he leads the league in steals and is second in deflections. The tape backs this up and he will back to locking up other NBA stars in under a month.
While the criticism about his jump shot (or lack thereof) will continue to follow him, the progress he has made on the defensive end has been extremely admirable. From a guy that was criticized for his defense coming out of college to someone who now takes such pride in it, these are strides that should not go unnoticed. When the season started, Simmons had just one individual goal- to win Defensive Player of the Year. While that may not be the case for this season, this foundation that has been established on the defensive end is one that should give the Sixers great hope going forward.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports