Ben Simmons' 2021 season has been more steak than sizzle, and that's not a bad thing
Idioms you can really sink your teeth into.
It sure is an exciting time to be Ben Simmons, or at the very least, Ben Simmons adjacent.
The rising star has been named — unsurprisingly — to the Boomers squad for Tokyo, the Philadelphia 76ers are sitting on top of the Eastern Conference standings at 17-7, and if his Instagram is any indication, he continues to bring his lunch every gameday in a fashionable carry bag.
What’s he snacking on, I wonder? So far, a whole lot of Ws.
When Ben Mallis offered his early season impressions to start January, Simmons was playing with the lockdown intensity of a Dormakaba, and he has continued that trend, capably putting the clamps on offensive threats like Kemba Walker and Russell Westbrook.
His 1-on-1 numbers against some of the league’s best shooters are impressive, and when you put him next to spritely countryman Matisse Thybulle, you end up with a suffocating perimeter closeout that frustrates opponents into forcing the issue and making costly mistakes.
As we enter the apex of fan voting for the All-Star Game, there’s a buzz surrounding Simmons. Some of it good, boasting about his defensive prowess and the success the Sixers have been enjoying. But of course, a lot of it equates to the pesky buzzing of flies, with detractors pointing to the other side of the ball and proclaiming his value, overall, has diminished.
The Philadelephant in the room is his 13.4 points per game, trending to be the lowest season average of his career. No, he has not yet developed a credible jumper, and no, he has not really been trying to simulate one in-game. In fact, he is one 3-pointer away from doubling his career total entering the year.
(Yes, that would mean a grand tally of four, or as many as Steph Curry sinks in the first twenty seconds of a game.)
All jokes aside, that is not Simmons’ style, and it probably never will be. He has indeed hit something of a scoring lull, but the statistics are misleading. His point totals this season have consisted of peaks and valleys, with occasional bursts around the 20 range here and there, offset by dry spells on either side.
When he’s on, he possesses the familiar touch that has made him such a versatile threat, but he has also suffered from cold streaks where he’d be hard pressed to buy a bucket from Bunnings. He should be rightly lauded for efforts like he had against Indianapolis last week, shooting a crisp 9 of 12 from the field, however he should also be questioned for nights of 3-11 against Toronto, 4-13 in Brooklyn and 4-10 against the lowly Timberwolves.
For a player whose shot chart closer resembles a power forward more than a point guard, such numbers are disconcerting, to say the least, though it obviously doesn’t tell the whole story. Where his scoring punch has diminished, Simmons has been facilitating in other ways. We’ve already established his pristine defence — his 8.1 rebounds, 0.9 blocks and 1.7 steals are all on-par with his career averages — while also dishing out 8.0 assists and improving at the free throw line, with a current career high of 63.6% (63 of 99).
It’s also important to consider that these figures don’t exist in a vacuum. The cast surrounding Simmons has changed this season, with more of an emphasis around spacing the floor and allowing Joel Embiid to operate unimpeded in the key. Seth Curry, Tobias Harris and Danny Green have transformed the identity of this starting lineup, and if their win/loss total is any indication, it’s been for the better.
Simmons, then, has had to fill in all of the other voids, carrying a heavy workload (32.8 minutes, which is somehow still the lowest average of his young career) and pivoting his role from night to night. He has the capacity to put up numbers, that much we’ve seen, but it’s not what’s being asked of him right now.
His chameleon-like capability to adapt to the present situation is a large part of the reason why the Sixers are looking so strong at this juncture, and this kind of deference can win championships when everyone understands and fulfils their role.
Doc Rivers “could care less” about Simmons’ shot, and quite frankly, Philly fans should be even more unconcerned than that — everything else is working just fine.
Especially his carry bag. Had to circle back to that one.