As the Sixers’ 2021 season has gone on, there have been plenty of notable performances. Joel Embiid is in early contention for the MVP; Shake Milton has shown that he is not only a quality player but a great sixth man.
Tyrese Maxey shows why he was so highly coveted coming out of college and one of the steals of the recent NBA draft. Tobias Harris has returned to the form that he showed while previously playing under Doc Rivers.
Dwight Howard has shown that he can be a great veteran leader for a young team, and Seth Curry has shown why everyone who said he’s one of the best shooters in the league was right. This all has added up to the Sixers being in first place in the Eastern Conference with an 18-8 record.
The one person not mentioned is Ben Simmons. Early in the season, the focus by many was that Simmons seemingly regressed. His scoring was down, and he seemed tentative to take even the shots he was familiar with.
The team’s head coach, Doc Rivers, has stated on more than one occasion that he doesn’t care if Simmons shoots the ball as long as he’s doing all the things that he does on the court.
The season has gone on, and the team has become more cohesive as they get used to playing together. During this time, Ben Simmons has quietly been stepping up.
Over Simmons’ last six games, the Philadelphia 76ers are 4-2. He has averaged 17.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 2 steals during that time.
He shut down James Harden in the later parts of their win over the Nets after Harden had beat up Danny Green for 22 points through three quarters. Simmons held him to 4 points for the rest of the game.
His defense has always been good but, this season, Simmons is really starting to shine. While his steals and blocks are right in line with his career averages, what he’s doing to opposing players is causing them to rethink how they’re playing when he’s on the floor.
Simmons’ size has always been a factor, and when you take into account his speed and vision, he’s become something special. He routinely shuts down other team’s top players when tasked with guarding them.
Defending The Philadelphia 76ers From The Shadows
We often wonder why he isn’t guarding other team’s top players to start the game, but the Sixers’ system dictates where he’s to play and who he’s assigned.
As the games go on, and this is where Rivers’ coaching ability excels compared to Brett Brown’s. Simmons is moved to control the opposing team’s best players to control the game and give the Sixers an edge in the final moments.
The Nets game was a perfect example as they played without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant but, Harden seemed fully capable of getting them a win.
That’s when Rivers moved Simmons over to guard Harden, and it was all over from there. Harden was a virtual non-factor in the fourth quarter and cruised on to a 124-108 victory.
What Changed In Simmons?
He’s always been talented, but the aggression you see from other players isn’t still present. After being mentioned in trades for more than a few weeks, the Sixers ultimately kept Simmons. He was asked about what people were saying about him.
Rather abruptly, he responded that he doesn’t “give a f***, honestly” what people say about him.
It was a rare moment of raw emotion from Simmons. He had heard the rumors. He was well aware that the team had been reported to be listening to offers for him. It was apparent considering Daryl Morey’s relationship with James Harden and the Harden trade saga from Houston.
Simmons said he didn’t know and didn’t care. But, if you look at his games since then, he knew, and he cared.
The Key To Simmons’ Improvement
He has been more relaxed and more aggressive at the same time. He’s been leading the team on both ends of the floor. When Simmons is on the court, the Sixers are a much better team, and it shows.
His speed and court awareness, matched with his size, make him a menace defensively as teams have to be aware of where he is at all times. He can interrupt passing lanes quicker than almost anyone in the game. His anticipation is practically unrivaled in the league.
Offensively, since he stated that he didn’t care, he’s been more aggressive and putting up the points to show it. He’s understanding what Doc Rivers wants from him during the game and taking what comes to him.
Simmons is leading the league in three-point assist percentage, and it’s not even close. He’s been everything that the team and its fans have wanted and expected from him. It seems that it’s only getting better.
Simmons now knows that he has the players in Milton, Curry, Harris, and Green that can regularly knock down threes and no longer worry about wasting possessions. He knows that the team, as a whole, has bought into playing defense. He no longer has to worry about people being out of place or even qualified to be playing defense.
The Hero The Philadelphia 76ers Need
This is the Simmons that we’ve all hoped for. This is the Simmons that Morey and Rivers have said they know and why he wasn’t traded.
If the Sixers are to make it to the NBA Finals, it will be because of Ben Simmons.
Simmons has turned into the hero that the Philadelphia 76ers need and that fans all wanted. Based on the past, though, not the one they deserve.
Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire