Sunday afternoon, Ben Simmons stepped up in the absence of his compatriots Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, stuffing the stat sheet with 20 points, 15 assists, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 blocks while turning it over just a single time. Obviously it was a fine game, but I wanted to put it in historical context, so I spent some quality time with my online crush, basketballreference.com.
Bbref’s Player Game Finder data starts in 1984-85, so I looked to see how many players in recorded history, i.e. since the mid-1980s, had matched Ben’s numbers. Now, this is kind of a lame thing to do, even for a stats geek. When you take a long list of accomplishments and seek a list of people who matched it, you’re going to get a list of players who were equal OR BETTER on EACH of the items, i.e. a list of players who had much BETTER performances than the one in question. If a baseball player has 20 steals, 20 homers, and 20 putouts in a season, the list of players who did that may not be very long but it may include some 43-27-24 seasons that are far superior to the one that started the conversation.
In Ben’s case, it would probably be ideal to look for something like “games with points over 18, assists*rebounds over 110 (his 15 assists multiplied by his 8 rebounds = 120), and steals*blocks/turnovers greater than 5 (his 3 steals multiplied by his 2 blocks gives us 6/1 = 6). Or something! But Basketball Reference is not set up well for that sort of thing, so I leave it to superior computer wizards to me to execute such searches. I just did the simple, slightly-silly lookup.
It’s been about 35 years with these records so we have about 35 years*82 games per year*30 teams*10 players (~10 rotation players seeing court action per game) to get our total for player-games. Now we know not all teams go 10 deep, and there weren’t always 30 teams in the league. So let’s say a number above 800,000 but less than a million, let’s just call it “almost a million” player-games. Out of those almost-a-million games, here’s the list that matched Ben’s performance against the Hornets on Sunday: ...
There weren’t any. None. Two other guys got everything but the turnovers, LeBron James, who had 5 turnovers, and a player who did it for the Sixers (but with 7(!) giveaways). Can you guess the Sixer who almost matched Ben? Answer below.*
Both LeBron’s and the other game matched Ben exactly at 15-8-3-2, LeBron had one extra rebound and 7 extra points while the former Sixer had no extra rebounds and no extra points, i.e. he had exactly Ben’s stats except for six additional turnovers. A small handful of players matched the assists-rebounds-steals-blocks without the points (and usually without the low turnovers either). Notably Johnny Moore did it twice back in 1984-85; the only others are Russell Westbrook and Jamaal Tinsley, during that brief period when Tinsley was a fantasy basketball stats machine.
Remember, this is not a list of rookies who managed this sort of game, or of Australians who did it. This is everyone in recorded history! Almost a million games, and no one did what Ben did on Sunday, and none of the ones I found were really very close, as 5 or 7 turnovers is really a lot more than 1. Basketball reference only allows you to search four categories at a time so it’s possible there’s a game out there that is, say, one assist shy and way better on every other metric. If others enjoy this sort of thing as I do, fire up bbref and let us know in the comments what you find. Are there other games as good on as many dimensions as Ben’s game Sunday? If so, were they posted by all-time greats, or by players who were “merely” good but having a special game?
It’s just worthwhile, I think, to pause every once in a while to recognize just how extraordinary are the accomplishments of our young stars. Ben didn’t just have a good game Sunday, or a great game. He had a game for the ages. Just another Sunday in Charlotte!