This is a weekly series where we’ll look back at one player’s performance to see who stood out and why. Whether it’s the best player on the team, someone at the bottom of the bench who stepped up, or anyone in between.
Last week’s results: 103-94 W vs. Utah, 119-113 L @ Washington, 141-94 W vs. Cleveland, 110-104 W vs. Toronto.
Ben Simmons had quite the week. Through the Philadelphia 76ers’ four games, he averaged 20.4 points (76.1 percent shooting), 8.8 assists, 6.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals and had the best plus/minus (plus-12.8) on the team among all regular rotation players. Before his career-high scoring night against Cleveland which stole the show, he started with defense leading the way against the Jazz to open the week.
As I looked at in more detail in this article, the Sixers’ defense was generally impressive against Utah — until the Jazz made a late surge in the fourth quarter and the Sixers’ energy dipped. Simmons in particular was instrumental in containing Utah’s pick-and-roll heavy attack, giving Mike Conley (3-of-9 shooting with four turnovers) and Donovan Mitchell (6-of-19 shooting with four turnovers) all kinds of trouble whenever they tried to find room to shoot or drive off screens.
Simmons has become a top-tier defender this season and had multiple plays that helped demonstrate his value. He hounded Utah’s guards on the ball, shifted his feet well to cut off driving lanes, fought his way around screens and extended with his unique quickness and reach to contest jumpers. Simmons added four steals as well, which helped solidify his league-leading average of 2.3 per game.
Thursday’s loss to the Wizards, on the other hand, was a poor showing from most of the Sixers. Simmons had good moments, racking up 17 points, 10 assists and three steals, but it was an underwhelming performance from him and seven turnovers against the NBA’s worst defensive team is far too careless.
He bounced back emphatically in the next game, though.
The highlight of Simmons’ week came on Saturday night. The Sixers dismantled the Cleveland Cavaliers 141-94, and as poor as the opposition may have been, Simmons still gave a complete, dominant performance. He scored a new career-high 34 points on 12-of-14 shooting (including the one shot all fans will care about most: his three-pointer), three rebounds, seven assists (one turnover), two steals and two blocks.
More importantly than the numbers, Simmons simply did everything Philly could ask for. Defensively, Simmons continued to play at an elite level, disrupting plays off the ball and bullying players on it with his size and quickness.
On offense, he was aggressively driving to the rim throughout his 25 minutes, racking up strong finishes inside and a bunch of free throw attempts (he finished 9-of-12 from the line, which are his season-high for makes and attempts).
To add to that, he looked as confident as ever with his jumper. He made three jump shots, including a driving pull-up as he attacked the basket and his second corner triple of the season.
Sure, you can always ask for more jump shots and tough fade-aways aren’t the kind of shots he should be seeking out over open spot-ups, but it’s about as complete as Simmons’ offensive game has ever looked. Physicality attacking the rim, getting to the free throw line, and confidence to shoot from distance is an ideal combination. The next step is making those attempts consistent — Simmons will have many open looks available to him every game if he wants to take them.
After the Cavs game, Brett Brown didn’t hold back when explaining what he wants to see from Simmons.
“This is what I want, you can pass this along to his agent, his family, his friends, and to him, I want a three-point shot a game, minimum,” Brown said, per Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice. “The pull-up twos, I’m fine with whatever is open, but I’m interested in the three-point shot. And the mentality that he has when he’s turning corners and he’s taking that long step, that gather step, and bringing his shoulders to the rim and trying to dunk and finish tight, [that] will equal higher efficiency and getting fouled. That’s the world that interests me the most, those two things.”
Brown also added that he’d like Simmons to be taking eight free throw attempts per game.
I don’t expect Simmons to start taking a three-pointer each game or average eight free throws. His confidence won’t always be there from distance and it’s too big a jump from what he’s shown so far. And as for the free throws, he’s still only averaging 3.9 attempts per game for the season, which is the lowest mark of his career.
That said, Brown’s ideal shooting numbers are certainly good targets to work towards. Simmons needs to build on games like this. In time, as his confidence ideally grows, perhaps corner threes will become a little more routine than shocking. If he can sprinkle some of those into his shot profile, set up at the top of the arc sometimes when he’s inevitably left open, and maintain the kind of aggressiveness he displayed against Cleveland, Simmons’ growth becomes far more interesting.
On Sunday night against the Raptors, Simmons had similar success until the final minutes and finished with 16 points (8-of-11 shooting), 11 rebounds and nine assists. Simmons looked to establish good post positioning and attacked the rim well in a variety of settings, including a powerful driving dunk out of a pick-and-roll with Joel Embiid.
The knock on Simmons' offensive production this game is that he didn't record any free throw or three-point attempts. Even still, thanks to this string of efficient scoring performances, he's up to a career-high True Shooting Percentage of 58.9.
On defense, Simmons was terrific again and helped hold Pascal Siakam to just 16 points on 7-of-18 shooting. Simmons’ consistent defensive impact and effort this season has been brilliant.
The problem came late in the fourth quarter as the Sixers faltered, and gave up a flurry of turnovers against the Raptors’ sharp zone defense and swarming full court presses. At times, Simmons didn't seem comfortable taking on possession and others struggled. Philly could have used more help from their star point guard to take the ball in those situations, be ready to get fouled and shoot free throws, and ride out the game. Overall, though, it was another strong showing from Simmons to round out the week.
Simmons has become an early All-Defensive First Team candidate this season. Only time will tell if he can accompany that with consistent development to his offensive performance and mentality, but this week was an encouraging one.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.