A supersized ‘Playoff Rondo’ would look really good for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Sure, he’s received comps to another 6-foot-9 point guard from back in the day, Magic Johnson, and occasionally draws comparisons to everyone from Blake Griffen, to Giannis Antetokounmpo, and even Jason Kidd, but through it all, James remains the carrot Simmons has been chasing through the first three years of his NBA career.
I mean, come on, Simmons’ most prominent nickname, ‘The Fresh Prince,’ is a clear reference to James, as he’s been going by some version of ‘The King’ for my entire basketball-watching career.
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Sidebar: ‘The Fresh Prince’ is also clearly a reference to pop culture icon/76ers minority owner Will Smith, which makes it one of the better nicknames in the game right now.
Though Simmons has consistently improved season over season since fairly winning the 2018 Rookie of the Year award over linguistics enthusiast Donovan Mitchell – especially on the defensive end of the court – fans, pundits, and ‘experts’ alike will consistently run the same lines about how the 24-year-old two-time All-Star will never become a true star until he 1. Starts shooting 3s and, more controversially, 2. He switches to forward full time.
“Woah, Woah, Woah, hold the flippin’ phone! You’re telling me Ben Simmons went from being the next LeBron James to the next Rajon Rondo? Quick, someone get the Minnesota Timberwolves on the phone stat!”
If that’s an appropriate approximation of your reaction to comparing Simmons, the former first overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, to a journeyman guard on his seventh team in eight years, you probably won’t like the rest of this piece, but I’d hope you’ll continue on regardless, as I really don’t think things are as bad as you may initially think.
Yes, Rondo is a limited offensive player who hasn’t averaged double-digit points over a full regular season since 2015-16 with the Kings. He’s also a below-average shooter with a career shooting percentage of 31.6 from beyond the arc on roughly 1.4 attempts a game; noticeably lower than the NBA’s average.
But what Rondo does better than 95 percent of the players in the NBA – when he’s on, of course – is put his teammates in the correct position to succeed.
You see, Rondo is a playmaker, a floor general, a savvy pickpocket, and a ‘coach on the court’ with aspirations of transitioning into the front office when his playing days are done. Whether paired up with superstars like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Anthony Davis, and LeBron James during his two title runs with the Celtics and Lakers, or filling more of a primary scoring role as an offensive focal point playing with the Kings, Pelicans, and Mavericks, Rondo is the kind of player who boosts everyone around him and makes an offense just run better.
If Simmons can do that too, all the while picking up a half a dozen or so more rebounds a game and playing some of the best wing defenders in the business, he really could be special in a way we haven’t seen since Magic Johnson.
Honestly, what is Rajon Rondo but a short Magic Johnson anyway?
Factor in the, um, fact that Simmons is one of the most physically gifted players in the NBA, capable of blazing past forwards and bodying up on guards, and the idea of allowing him to run the show becomes all the more tantalizing, even if he can’t be reliably counted on to run a traditional pick and roll with Joel Embiid.
Then again, if Simmons can get his 3 point shooting percentage up into Rondo’s 31.6 range on even a shot and a half a game, a whole new world of offensive possibilities suddenly opens up for the Sixers.
For better or worse, Ben Simmons isn’t LeBron James, Magic Johnson, or even Rajon Rondo; he’s Ben Simmons. Even if his game doesn’t progress one bit from his 2019-20 averages, he’ll still remain a consistent All-Star, an All-Defense contender, and a player who would start on every single team in the NBA at one position or another. With that being said, Doc Rivers’ decision to play Simmons in more of a playmaker role could take his game up a pretty significant notch and help the players around him get even more out of their individual games. I mean hey, it worked out pretty well the last time Rivers had a Rajon Rondo-esque playmaker averaging a similar stat line, why not see what he can do in the same scheme alongside Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Seth Curry?