After turning in the best game of his Philadelphia 76ers career against Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers, Ben Simmons has solidified his place as an All-NBA defender.
That’s a lot.
Do you want to know what else is a lot? 26 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, Simmons’ stat line on the evening.
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Yeah, you read that right. Ben ‘The Peacemaker’ Simmons put up a triple-double, his sixth of the season, in a game where he had to guard one of the best two-way players in the league one-on-one for the better part of 37 minutes.
That’s just insane.
But again, it isn’t though, as Simmons has been playing at this uber-high level defensively all season, it’s just not as noticeable as, say throwing down a monster dunk, hitting a dagger 3, or attempting to get into a fight with the Eagles-loving Morris Twin.
Measuring in at 6-foot-10, 230 pounds with a 7-footer’s wingspan and a point guard’s athleticism, Simmons is one of the rare players who can adequately cover every single player in the NBA one-on-one. Granted, his talents would be wasted posted up on a massive center like, say, Andre Drummond, but Simmons conceivably could switch onto the newest member of the Cleveland Cavaliers and give him pause driving to the basket.
No, to optimize Simmons’ defensive wizardry, he really needs to play on the wings, preferably locked in on an opposing team’s top wing. Fortunately, that’s exactly how Brett Brown has utilized Simmons so far this season to beyond encouraging results.
Typically filling the Robert Covington-role as a defender at the top of the key, Simmons has been tasked with covering everyone from LeBron James and Jayson Tatum, to James Harden and Jimmy Butler so far this season, and for the most part, the results have been impressive.
Has he been able to shut any of those players out completely? Well, no, but in the NBA, no player shuts down another for a full 48 minutes, especially when facing off against the best of the best of the best. While Simmons only ranks eighth on the Sixers in defensive RPM (-.05), sixth in defensive win shares (0.136), and 12th in defensive rating (106.9), it’s hard to hold that against a 6-foot-10 point guard who covers everyone from point guards to centers on any given game and leads the league in steals with 2.2 a game.
Just for reference, Kawhi Leonard, often hailed as the best on-ball defender in the NBA, has a far more impressive 3.75 defensive RPM but trails Simmons’ defensive win shares (0.135), and defensive rating (104.1).
When was the last time Kawhi had to switch onto Nikola Jokic and go at it one-on-one?
Now I get it, the NBA is a scorers game, and teams will consistently reward offensive dynamos over generational stoppers in the draft, or in free agency – just ask Matisse Thybulle – but Ben Simmons’ improved play on the defensive end of the court has justified his status as a number one pick, a max contract player, and a two-time All-Star. It’s not hyperbolic to say that The Fresh Prince could one day be the best defensive player in the NBA regardless of position, as at 23-years-old, he’s only scratched the surface of his potential as a player.