Could Ben Simmons earn NBA All-Defensive honours this season?
Ben Simmons set himself quite a high bar to live up to, on his media day declaration this year.
“ Every other individual accolade comes along with doing your job. You can’t go out and say you want to win certain things unless it’s going to help the team. I can tell you Giannis [Antetokounmpo] right now would rather have a championship than an MVP. That’s just my mentality. I would rather win and see everybody on my team do well than individual accolades, unless it’s Defensive Player of the Year."
While it is unlikely that he will walk away with this particular award - point guards rarely win the award and there are several elite defensive-minded players in the league competing for this prestigious title - it is very possible Simmons could be on the shortlist of players who achieve All-Defensive Team honours, when June 2020 comes around.
We know the 6'10 Aussie has the tools to be a transcendent defensive player - he is incredibly tall, athletic, and possesses good instincts. These attributes equip him with the rare versatility of being able to adequately guard all five positions on the court. Out of the players who have played more than 20 games this season that are guarding more than ten shot attempts per game, Simmons is 10th in opponent field goal percentage at 40.5%, not too far from league leader and well-known defensive stopper Kawhi Leonard, at 36.6%.
There are also other components of defence, such as disruption and hustle, that Simmons has excelled in more so. According to Basketball-Reference, Simmons is first in steals this season with 54 overall, and also second in steals per game at 2.1, right behind former teammate Jimmy Butler. It doesn’t stop there either, as Simmons is also third in loose balls recovered at 2.1, and fourth in deflections at 3.9.
After a recent Sixers win against the Denver Nuggets, the 23rd year old Simmons spoke about his defensive production. “I take a lot of pride in my defence, so I love guarding those guys and trying to get steals and deflections and things like that.”
“He’s ticking the box on the All-Defensive Team that I have challenged him on,” 76ers head coach, Brett Brown said.
Statistics and coach comments aside, the eye test in the clutch justifies Simmons’ case even more. Most notably, against the Indiana Pacers a few weeks ago, Simmons made three huge plays on consecutive defensive possessions to lead his team to a gutsy three point win. With the first steal, he showed his tremendous instincts in cutting off T.J Warren’s passing lane, then setting it up for Tobias Harris to take the lead in the game. In the second and third steals, his athleticism and length were on full display, and proved to be too much of a challenge for the opposing player inbounding the ball on both occasions.
The day before against the Knicks, Simmons also ensured his team were victorious in a similar sort of fashion. With less than two minutes remaining, Simmons stole the ball off an inbound, raced up the court solo and dunked in transition.
Against the Portland Trail Blazers (0:50 mark), San Antonio Spurs (2:52 mark) and Detroit Pistons (0:04 mark) earlier in the year, he also made multiple defensive plays, whether that was locking his man down or causing havoc with deflections/steals, in the fourth quarter that would prove vital in his teams eventual wins.
Bill Simmons of The Ringer made observations about the Australian All-Star's defensive abilities in a recent interview with ESPN's Brian Windhorst, and that Ben Simmons' defensive development had surprisingly grown much quicker than his offensive game, reminding him of certain all-time greats.
"[Ben Simmons] really does have a high basketball IQ," the CEO of The Ringer said. "He does stuff especially at the end of games defensively that if you go back and watch early Magic, early [Michael Jordan], he does have the same 'the bigger the stakes the smarter he is defensively' instincts...”
It is still far too early to be penciling anyone in for any NBA teams. Yet, it is clear the Aussie superstar is making a significant difference for his team on the defensive end, and the championship-hungry Sixers will need every part of Simmons’ defensive prowess if they are serious about winning a title this season.