Philadelphia 76ers

Ben Simmons will take the Sixers as far as they allow him to

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Ben Simmons has consistently made headlines in the basketball world since his early teenage years. Before Zion Williamson, Simmons was the latest young player to be placed on the impossible pedestal of the next NBA superstar. He was the consensus #1 player in his class from the time rankings began and his stock only rose when he came to America to finish his final 3 years of high school. Earlier this year Simmons was even listed as the #1 high school basketball player of the past decade by MaxPreps.

With Simmons already a lock for being the top pick in the draft when that time came, he coasted through a semester at LSU before dropping out once the season was over. In his time there, Ben averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, and 2 steals per game. On the court, there was very little concern and with him filling into his 6’10 body he was painted as a player that could be a cornerstone player for any franchise.

Following the 10-72 record in which Jahlil Okafor led the team in scoring with 17.5 points per game, the Sixers secured the #1 overall pick in the draft. Despite some attacks on his character prior to the draft, the Sixers stood by their evaluation and selected Simmons over the next top prospect, Brandon Ingram, with the first overall pick. The rare combination of size, speed, athleticism made gave the Sixers the confidence to give the Australian the keys to the team and they have not looked back.

Ben Simmons Critics

Despite tearing up the league in his first two years, earning honors such as Rookie of the Year and an All-Star appearance, the tune surrounding Simmons has started to sour.

His ceiling as a player seems to be shrinking as in many ways he looks like the same player who came into the league five years ago. In fact, there is a real argument to be made that he has slowly regressed. This season he is posting a career-low in points (12.9) and career-high in turnovers (3.8) as he has forced passes into tight windows that aren’t always open.

The cries for him to shoot will continue as the number of 3’s attempted in his career sits at just 30. Simmons appears to have grown more passive in the offense and has appeared unselfish to a fault. The dreams of him being a go-to option on offense seem to be fading as there have not been any notable offensive abilities added to his game and his shooting percentages have dipped across the board.

Shooting Isn’t Everything

While it would be nice for Simmons to be able to put up 20+ points on a nightly basis, it should not take away from how impactful he remains on this Sixers team. The 6’10 floor-general is arguably the best fast-break player in the league, is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and effectively runs the offense for the team.

Doc’s Thoughts

Doc Rivers has been very careful with the words he chooses when talking about Ben Simmons so far this year. Throughout his time here Rivers has referred to Simmons as a “facilitator” or “playmaker,” rather than pinning him to a position. In an early press conference during training camp, Doc once again shot down the notion of pinning him to a position and put it that “I’m going to give him the keys and let him be free.”

Even after an underwhelming statistical performance in the recent Celtics game in which Simmons ended with 11 points, 8 assists, and 8 rebounds, Rivers was quick to rave about Ben postgame. Doc put it that “Ben was unbelievable… It’s amazing what he can do.” More specifically, Rivers talked about his ability to defend whoever he was asked to and impact the game beyond the box score.

Defensive Ability

What was once the biggest concern for Simmons when coming into the league has quickly ascended to the biggest asset in his game. Simmons was critiqued for his defense in his time at LSU, but this quickly changed when he came into the NBA. The Australia product finished 4th in DPOY voting last season as he led the league in steals per game (2.1), was second in overall steals (119), and third in steal percentage (2.9%). On top of this, the highest shooting percentage his primary matchup has ever shot with Simmons on him has been 46.1% throughout a season.

Simmons is also arguably the most versatile defender in the league as he has the unique skillset to guard positions 1-5. So far this season, Ben has spent 49.4% of his time matched up against guards, 45.1% against forwards, and 5.6% guarding centers. In a league where there is such an emphasis on wing scoring, having a guy that can lock down a legitimate star is extremely valuable. In a path to a championship in which the Sixers will be forced to go through players like Jayson Tatum, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, James Harden, and more- Simmons is one of the few guys who can take names like this in a one-on-one matchup.

How high is the ceiling for Ben Simmons?

For the people still holding out hope that Ben Simmons will someday be a top-5 player in the NBA- he won’t. For the people who think Simmons is so bad that he needs to be traded this season- he doesn’t.

Comparing Ben Simmons to Draymond Green is an insult to his overall talent, but not necessarily his value. When looking back on the “Splash Brothers” Warriors team who won 4 titles in 5 years between 2014-18, it is Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Durant who carried the team. But beyond that it was Draymond Green doing all the little things to help the team win. Green was a grinder on defense, rebounded effectively, and handled the ball at a much higher rate than most people remember.

Ben Simmons has a much smaller mouth and is already much more talented than Draymond Green ever was or will be. But even with the loaded roster that Golden State has had, Green is a common name when talked about as the most valuable player on the team. This could be a very similar role to what Simmons plays with The Sixers moving forward and the shoes he seems to be growing into. There are many ways to contribute to a winning team outside of scoring the basketball and Simmons is well capable of doing these things.

Simmons probably will never develop into the go-to scorer that was hoped when he was drafted. However, it is clear that the Sixers are a better team when Ben Simmons is on it. Forcing him to grow into something he isn’t is detrimental to everyone involved and it is time to let Ben Simmons simply be Ben Simmons. He may not be the typical “co-star” to Joel Embiid that was imagined but that does not mean he cannot be a valuable piece on a championship team.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

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Lead Sixers Writer for Philly Sports Network and Co-host of the Pick Swap Podcast. Trust the Process

Twitter: @Sean_Barnard1 and @PickSwapPod

Email: sean.barnard17@gmail.com

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