On a relatively unassuming Tuesday afternoon, fans of the Philadelphia 76ers who happened to tune into ESPN’s The Jump were met with a welcomed surprise: An interview with guard/forward/defenseman du jour, Ben Simmons.
Now, for the most part, it isn’t too uncommon to see NBA players pop up on ESPN’s premier basketball show – I mean, it is their premier basketball show for a reason – but this particular segment drew considerable ire from that special segment of aggressively online basketball fans who hate Simmons like Charles Barkley hates not eating McDonald’s on an exercise bike during practice.
Why? Well, I’m glad you asked.
In the interview, which was far from hard-hitting, Simmons talked his talk about wanting to win Defensive Player of the Year, all the while throwing some subtle – and not so subtle – digs at his competitors, specifically Utah’s “Stifle Tower”, the notorious Rudy Gobert.
Could Simmons have spoken on the subject in a less cocky way? Perhaps, but honestly, as a noted critic of Simmons’ on-court demeanor post-All-Star game, it’s honestly refreshing to see the at times passive distributor get fired up and talk his talk on a national stage.
If anything, that fire might be just what the doctor ordered to supercharge the Philadelphia 76ers right when they need it most.
Aggressive Ben Simmons would make the Philadelphia 76ers leagues better.
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Calling Ben Simmons a candidate for DPOTY is not a controversial take.
He can legitimately cover any position with very few exceptions, is an exceptional fit in a switching system, and has a keen eye for picking off passing and chasing down blocks. His defensive statistics are among the best in the NBA by pretty much any quantifiable metric, and his wing defense from the top of the key is good enough to keep Matisse Thybulle a part-time player; which is particularly impressive, considering the second year Huskie is among the best backcourt defenders in the NBA.
Even on an off night, Simmons is a plus defender, but when he’s on, there are very, very few players who can score on him with regularity.
Why is this relevant? Because Simmons’ defensive acumen isn’t in question.
Even if you think a player like Rudy Gobert, Jimmy Butler, or even his Philadelphia partner in crime, Joel Embiid, is a better defender, it’s a borderline lock that Simmons will be a fixture of All-NBA defensive teams for the foreseeable future in the same way that Jrue Holiday and Marcus Smart have been for years.
But what will seemingly forever separate Simmons from being an All-Defensive stalwart and one of the best players in the NBA is his aggressiveness on offense.
I know, I know, some will point to Simmons’ lack of an outside shot as the thing keeping his game where it is, but objectively speaking, that concern seems rather overblown. Doc Rivers had Simmons playing some of the best basketball of his career lined up next to Embiid, and he’s only attempted nine 3s on the season, or roughly .2 shots per game.
No, the one, singular aspect of Simmons’ game that has fluctuated so drastically from one week, game, or even minute to another has been his level of aggressiveness, specifically on the offensive end of the court.
You see, the Sixers are at their best when Simmons is running the show on offense. Sure, there are times where Harris and Embiid form a dominant two-man game in the fourth quarter or a player like Shake Milton can provide more offensive pop thanks to his complete offensive game, but there are very few players in the NBA as a whole who see the floor quite like Simmons and fewer still who can execute the sort of passes that local fans have started to take for granted – none of whom are currently members of the Philadelphia 76ers.
When Simmons uses that vision to not only facilitate for others but actively drive for his own shot, it makes the entire team a whole lot better. Similarly, when Simmons remains engaged around the basket, fighting for offensive rebounds and putback opportunities, it gets more points on the board and more minutes in the Sixers’ column.
Heck, when Simmons is fully engaged, he’s even more eager to draw contact and take the ball to the charity stripe, where he’s hitting 60-plus percent of his shots for the third straight season.
Throw that all together, and you have a player with a heftier stat line and a few more points per game, all without having to change his usage all that much.
But wait, there’s more.
If Simmons opts to be more aggressive on offense as a driver, it’ll force opposing defenders to guard him more honestly, which, in turn, would surely lead to more open looks on the outside for shooters like Danny Green, Seth Curry, and eventually George Hill.
Considering just how often Simmons touches the ball on average, it’s borderline criminal that he only ranks fifth on the Sixers in usage rate tied with Furkan Korkmaz at 20.9.
Sidebar: I’m not sure if it’s more alarming that Simmons’ usage rating is that low or that Korkmaz’s usage rating is that high. Either way, neither is particularly good.
So Ben Simmons, talk that talk, my guy. While Joel Embiid may be the heart and soul of the Philadelphia 76ers, you bringing more aggression to the table can only make the team better, which, ultimately, is a goal all fans should be able to get behind. And as for the haters? Well, they’re going to do what they’re going to do, so why pay it any mind?