The conversation for the 2018 Rookie of the Year is over. Ben Simmons is the winner. That’s it. Let’s not argue that. Anyone that does will have a Crown Burger thrown at them.
(For the record, yes, I assume anyone that argues for someone else either lives in the greater Salt Lake City area, or they’re a national media talking head that votes for Donovan Mitchell. Also, yes, I had to do a Google search for a relevant Utah food reference.)
Now that we’ve established the stance, why stop with the Rookie of the Year award? Let’s rack up some more accomplishments for our 6’10” rookie point guard/power forward.
There isn’t a high level of crazy incoming. Simmons is not my pick for league MVP (James Harden), Most Improved (Victor Oladipo), Sixth Man (Lou Williams), or Defensive Player of the Year (Andre Drummond), but here’s what Simmons is my pick for: NBA All-Defensive 1st Team.
That’s a crazy thought, right? Remember, this was part of Simmons’s scouting report from DraftExpress in 2016:
Defensively, Simmons has elite instincts and anticipation skills, as evidenced by the terrific 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 steals and .9 blocks he averages per-40 minutes. The problem is that Simmons rarely plays up to his full potential on this end of the floor. He often looks very lazy here, not making any effort whatsoever to close out on shooters and avoiding contact and physicality in a very concerning way when challenged by opposing players. - Jonathan Givony, Draft Express
Simmons wasn’t as much of a sieve on defense as say, Jahlil Okafor, but defense wasn’t exactly his calling card, either. After his first full season, it seems as if folks were wrong about Simmons’s defensive potential — which just adds to the list of things that folks were wrong about regarding the Sixers.
There are two NBA All-Defensive teams every year composed of two guards, two forwards, and a center. If you ask me right now, Simmons deserves one of those four guard spots on the All-NBA Defensive team (either first or second team).
As of today, these are the six best guards in defensive win shares (DWS):
That’s a solid list. It’s possible that Chris Paul and Jimmy Butler get consideration based on name recognition, but I hope that’s not the case.
On this list, Simmons is first in all of those categories, and he is one of two guards with 100+ steals and 50+ blocks — the other being Victor Oladipo. In a fair and just world, Simmons and Westbrook would be first team guards, and Oladipo and Rubio. (Despite my previous statement of being fair and just, there’s no part of my brain that can admit that James Harden is one of the four best defensive guards in the league. I can’t do it. I tried.)
When talking about the Sixers defense, I would be remiss not to point out Robert Covington — who is an underrated defender in his own right and tied for second in deflections with 279. Simmons is 11th in that category with 208. It would also behoove me to not reference Joel Embiid who is the Sixers last line of defense and is top-10 in total blocks with 111.
How the Sixers defend as a team helps Simmons’s case.
In terms of style, the Sixers use Simmons similar to the way the Warriors use Draymond Green. The Warriors use him to defend both guards and bigs. On pick and rolls and isolations, such an attribute is unique characteristic, and both are comfortable in any situation. (I know. Covington, Embiid, and Saric all theoretically guard multiple positions at different times, but let’s face it: if you have to pick between those three or Simmons to guard a healthy Kyrie Irving, for example, give me Simmons.)
Draymond Green is a three-time All-NBA defender and a Defensive Player of the Year last year. In both years, Green had solid numbers:
Simmons’s numbers this year are closer to Green’s ‘14-’15 numbers than Green’s DPOY numbers, but it’s fair to say that Simmons is worthy.
There’s always one thing that will be a knock on a defender like Simmons: “How can he be an All-NBA defender if he doesn’t guard the other team’s best player all night?” Sure, if you want to hang your hat on that, I won’t stop you. I’d argue that a player who guards multiple positions all night is more valuable. What good is a great iso defender if the other players on the team score enough points to win?
The stats back up Simmons’s case for All-NBA First Team Defense, but in the interest of not being labelled another “blog boy” that doesn’t watch games, let me show you, Mr. Durant, a video of Simmons running around guarding your man, Steph Curry.
Simmons does a great job at both staying in front of Curry, forcing him to go baseline rather than towards the middle of the floor, and using his length to get around single and double screens. The Sixers lost that game, but Curry had 22 points on five field goals and nine free throws.
The instincts are also next level, and that, combined with his wingspan, allow Simmons to play passing lanes and get steals in the backcourt that most guards can’t get. It’s also fun to watch Simmons do the TJ McConnell thing where he hangs in the opposing front court and catch folks slacking off with the inbounds passes.
Simmons has been a welcome surprise with many aspects this season from his poise on the court to his ridiculous passing ability. The idea that he’s probably an All-NBA defender is me being greedy, but let’s be real: Simmons deserves the nod.