After just barely missing the cut last season, Joel Embiid was announced as an All-Star Starter last night. It’s well deserved. But when Philly fans have one good thing happen, they get greedy, which leads to the next logical question: What are Ben Simmons’ chances of making the team as a reserve?
At first glance they don’t look great. None of the four NBA on TNT hosts listed Simmons as on of their seven reserves:
#NBA Inside The NBA: East All-Star Reserves https://t.co/A4VdTJWqM2 pic.twitter.com/ivR9swPzd0— Coach Billy Carson (@CoachCarson) January 19, 2018
Ben Simmons finished 3rd in the fan vote but 6th in both player and media voting (a lot of people were tied for 6th in the media vote with zero votes). I’d make a connection to how those results play into the coach voting if I thought there was any correlation at all. However, in the latter two vote categories, Ben was bested by John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Victor Oladipo. Taking their performance and the votes we’ve already seen into account, there is a zero percent chance Oladipo, Beal, and Wall aren’t All-Stars (they each split the last of the media votes).
However, there is no set number on reserve backcourt spots. Last year, the East had four guards on the bench. In 2016, there were three guards and guard/forward Jimmy Butler. 2015 had the same count and added G/F Kyle Korver. The West’s 2015 bench had five guards. If there are only three, Simmons will miss the cut, so let’s assume there will be at least four (though none of the TNT staff picked more than three).
If that’s the case, the closest other backcourt player in the voting, Isaiah Thomas (7th in fan rank, 9th in player), won’t get the nod purely because of games played. Next is Kyle Lowry who landed at 8th and 7th in the respective vote categories. If it exists, that final spot will likely and fittingly come down to Lowry and Simmons.
On the season, Simmons is averaging 16.8 points, 8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1 block on 51.3% shooting, with a box plus-minus of 2.7 (3.3 defensive), and PER of 17.6.
Lowry, of course, plays for a much better team. But the only categories above where he’s ranked above Simmons are PER and the offensive and total BPM. Lowry also beats Simmons in long-range shooting, obviously. But I don’t even think that if Simmons loses out it’s because Lowry is better—you can argue that on your own (and it’ll probably be that he misses out in favor of another frontcourt player). I think it’ll be because the magic of Ben Simmons has faded, ever so slightly.
Simmons has played in 40 of 41 games this season. In the first 20, he averaged 18.6 points, 9.4 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 2.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks on 50.7% shooting. In the 20 games since, he’s averaged 14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.2 blocks on 51.8% shooting. In the first 20 games, Simmons had a turnover percentage of 17.3%. Since then, that’s jumped to 23.6% (not counting last night’s game, where Simmons posted 3). On top of that: Points, rebounds, assists, and steals are all down, and the pure excitement (for non-Sixers fans) of seeing what Ben Simmons can and will do has worn off a bit.
Simmons is still putting up numbers that only work in an historic context. Simmons’ season averages are 16.5 points, 8 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.9 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game while shooting 51.2% from the floor. The only players averaging numbrs like that are Ben Simmons and LeBron James.
In a full season, if Simmons’ numbers keep up, he’ll be the only rookie other than Magic Johnson to post those averages. The only players to post even 16.0/7.5/6.6 on 50% shooting for a season in history are LeBron (twice), Scottie Pippen, Michael Jordan (twice), Larry Bird (twice), Magic (four times), Wilt Chamberlain (twice), and Oscar Robertson (once).
Since 1984, Simmons’ totals (663 points, 320 rebounds, 287 assists, 76 steals, and 38 blocks) have only been hit in a player’s first 40 career games once...right now. It’s only him. If you drop the points down to 600, rebounds to 300, assists to 250, and steals to 60, you still only get Simmons. If you remove steals altogether, you still only get Simmons. If you include only points and rebounds, the list expands to 18 people all-time, the most recent entry being the last rookie All-Star Blake Griffin. Other notables include Pau Gasol, Elton Brand, Tim Duncan, Shaq, David Robinson, and literally not a single person listed as a guard. Hell, if you just check rookies who notched 300 rebounds and 250 assists in their first 40—not worrying about points of efficiency at all—you once again only get Ben Simmons. If you include solely the 38 blocks and 76 steals, you get only Simmons, Grant Hill, Ron Harper, and MJ. This is just a lot of numbers to say that the dude is playing at an All-Star level.
It feels unlikely Simmons will get the nod. Oladipo, Wall, and Beal are probably locks. So are Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis. There’s five of your seven reserves right there, with two spots having to go to any combo of Simmons, Kyle Lowry, Kevin Love, Andre Drummond, and, honestly, Jayson Tatum. For what it’s worth, Simmons received fewer player votes than than Oladipo, Wall, Beal, Kristaps, Love, Drummond, and Tobias Harris.
Coaches may be more willing to put a rookie in, but how much more?
The NBA All-Star reserves will be announced next Tuesday during TNT’s NBA Tip-Off.
*All stats via Basketball-Reference.