Offensively, Ben Simmons has combated bouts of inconsistent aggression all season. He has recorded 24 games with fewer than 12 field goal attempts (his average on the season), while tallying 35 games over that mark. In the two games after the All-Star break, though, Simmons has flashed promising signs of consistently aggressive play.
In those games, Simmons has fired 18 shots per game (17 against Miami and 19 against Portland). Despite the aforementioned increase in attempts, his efficiency has buoyed at a 55.5 percent clip (a 1.3 percent difference from the average).
The Sixers have gone 1-1 over this mini-stretch, not to fault Simmons’ good play, but rather, in spite of it. In a Sixers offense that has stalled the last two games — their 109.4 offensive rating falling short of the 111.8 they average on the season — Simmons has been one of the few bright spots.
Aside from Tobias Harris — who has reached 23 and 20 points, respectively — the starting lineup has looked out of sorts. JJ Redick struggled without his handoff partner, Joel Embiid — who is out with knee soreness — and has shot a combined 4-for-15 from deep. Jimmy Butler was an all-around threat in the Miami game — recording 18 points and six assists — but practically disappeared against Portland — shooting only nine times with two assists.
Without Embiid, Simmons was a track star in transition. On back-to-back possessions, in fact, the camera failed to capture a dashing Simmons, who received the outlet pass or grabbed the rebound baton and imminently raced from end-to-end:
Defended by Enes Kanter and Jusuf Nurkic, Simmons took advantage at every opportunity, charging at them like a bull does a matador. Rarely, though, did the two Blazer centers wave a red flag and skedaddle, instead, opting to contest Simmons with brute force. The Sixers point guard, however, cared not for their contests, their shoving, or their repeated trash talk.
Simmons set a ball-screen and charged at Nurkic:
He planned to set a ball-screen on Kanter, but took the space provided instead:
Pick-and-rolls are a rare condiment in the diet of Philadelphia’s offense, though, with most offense stemming from handoffs and straight-up driving opportunities. Simmons is the leader of the latter offense, with his face-up ability on the forefront.
Here, he faces up, drives, and tries to end Nurkic’s basketball life with a menacing dunk:
Though the ball clanked off back-rim, that aggressiveness around the rim is exactly what the Sixers crave when starved of their interior threat. Amir Johnson, Jonah Bolden, and Boban Marjanovic didn’t do the job, the three-man rotation at center combining for 13 points in 34 minutes (little off topic, but notable: Jusuf Nurkic scored 24 points in as many minutes. Embiid needs to hurry back). Simmons can fill the gaps at the center position.
However, aesthetically pleasing as it is to see Simmons attack two centers, both of whom lack the defensive chops and physical traits (wingspan, for example) to stop him at the cup, it is the areas — like shooting — that paint the brush strokes of the canvas of Simmons’ aggression.
The statistics tell us Simmons doesn’t shoot. On the season, 87.8 percent of his shots have come within ten feet, with fewer than 12 percent outside that area. But do you really need the statistics to know that? It’s obvious right as you flip on NBC Philadelphia.
In a general sense, Simmons has shown a willingness to take jumpers when the defense gives him space — taking his first real three against the Lakers on February 10. Some teams, like the Blazers, are to put it simply, defending him by not defending him. They dare him to shoot. And, finally, Simmons is doing just that — kinda.
Mo Harkless and Justise Winslow both go way under the screen; Simmons shoots:
The above jump shots are two isolated situations, yes. But added up, they are enough to be called progress. And really, progress is all Sixers fans can ask for from the point guard that can pretty much do everything else really well.
Another aspect the big point guard is slowly improving upon is those turnaround hook shots. They’re great because it adds a dimension to his game when defenses don’t guard. How he’s getting them, not why, is key, though.
Against Miami, the smaller Winslow guarded Simmons for nearly every possession down the court. Simmons noticed. Big time. When the Australian wasn’t dribbling from end-to-end, he was carving out post-positioning against the 6-foot-5 guard.
And sometimes, he cleared out the whole side of the court to do so.
No, posting up and taking hook shots is not the only thing Simmons is doing. That’s what makes this small sample size different. Better, even. He is fading away from the post, too, another noticeable progression in the jumper category:
Simmons has become a tangible post presence this season — not perfect, but better. With Embiid out these two games, perhaps that was an area Brett Brown asked from him. However, Brown and fans know Simmons’ true position is point guard, one whose best ability and advantage is to drive through the teeth of defenses with the rock in his hands.
Nonetheless, he is also something in-between. Some nameless position. In that sense, Simmons has materialized as a face-up menace these last two games, scaring away opponents with his mere presence.
All aggression isn’t treated equal. Aggression is not all good. Some of it is bad, like in moments when Simmons’ head is down on drives, ones leading to charge calls — moments occurring two separate times in the Portland game. A balance can be struck. Simmons is only 22 years old and over time, the perfect medium could be found.
With the Sixers’ “crown jewel” not officially cleared for the next game versus the Pelicans, the opportunity for Simmons to be this aggressive is in question. Regardless, aggression is a personal trait and one that is the pathway for Simmons to earn defenses’ respect this season.
Prospective playoff matchups stacked with multiple defensive wing-stoppers — Boston and Marcus Morris or Jayson Tatum, Toronto and Kawhi Leonard or OG Anuoboby, Milwaukee and Giannis or Khris Middleton — Simmons attacking the rim with little hesitation could unlock new avenues of scoring. It might be all the Sixers need to reach the next level offensively.