Recapping the 2017/18 season: The Ben Simmons show we didn't know we needed
Raise your hand, if you expected this kind of production from Ben Simmons this season.
What Simmons has managed to produce this season, has been nothing short of miraculous. In fact, most Aussies (including yours truly) are still pinching themselves that this guy is even Australian.
Simmons put up numbers for a rookie, not seen since Magic Johnson’s first season in the Association. The Philadelphia 76ers improved their win total from 28 to 52 this season and moved from second-last in the East, right up to third, with home court advantage. Simmons has been the forefront of this movement and will look only to improve on this mark next season.
Coming into this season, most Philadelphian and Australian fans would have been happy if Simmons played the full season uninjured. A low bar certainly, but when Simmons missed his entire first season with a fractured foot, just the mere thought of Simmons coming back on the court was enough for most.
As far as on-court production is concerned, the NBA world had been given a small insight into Simmon’s ability in the Summer League of 2016. In six games, Simmons had averaged 10.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.5 assists. With only that to work from and a whole year spent on the sideline, anything resembling that Summer League output would have been a pass mark for Simmons this season.
What the NBA world expected from Simmons before the season began and what actually transpired turned out to be two vastly different outlooks. Simmons set about making up for lost time, putting together one of the strongest rookie campaigns in NBA history.
He finished the season playing 81 games, while averaging 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists. Simmons has broken several Australian records this season, including the assists record, where he averaged 8.2 assists per game. The level of vision Simmons possesses is unreal, with commentators believing the man had eyes in the back of his head at times.
Not only did Simmons put up incredible numbers while on the court, but he managed to stay healthy throughout the whole season. The way Simmons has hit the ground running has been astonishing and begs the question on how high Simmons' true NBA ceiling is.
Production vs college output
NBA stat line: 81 games; 15.8 points / 8.1 rebounds / 8.2 assists (54.5% FG)
College stat line: 33 games; 19.2 points / 11.8 rebounds / 4.8 assists (56.1% FG)
Simmons' lone season in LSU provides a small sample in which to compare this year's output. In both seasons, Simmons clearly shone, however its his playmaking which has truly come come to the fore this season in Philadelphia.
Simmons finished the season with 661 assists, almost double his closest rival (Lonzo Ball, 376), which is also unsurprisingly another Australia record. Simmons' ability to drive towards the rim and either score, or facilitate to one of his team mates had him in All-Star talks right from the get go this season. As a 208cm point guard, it is no surprise that Simmons can rebound and score at the rim. But his vision and basketball IQ has allowed him to exceed all playmaking expectations this season.
As mentioned above, Simmons' improvement as a playmaker has been nothing short of extraordinary this season. But the biggest skill Simmons has developed, has been his ability to lead a winning team. His lone season in LSU, while statistically brilliant, was marred with off-court issues, leading to them missing the NCAA tournament after finishing with a lacklustre record of 19-14.
This had cast doubt over whether Philadelphia would select Simmons first overall in the 2016 NBA draft. While Simmons had been statistically brilliant that season, his inability to lead a winning team to the tournament and beyond had many questioning if he could lead an NBA team to glory.
This has been perhaps Simmons' biggest achievement this year under Brett Brown as he led the 76ers to a 52-30 record, good enough for the third seed in the East. It was Philadelphia’s first 50 win season in close to two decades, which was capped off by a franchise record 16-match winning streak heading into the playoffs.
Simmons - 27 points, 13 assists, 15 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 block
This game will go down in memory as the game where the Philadelphia 76ers announced to the world that the much-maligned “Process” was finally complete. Heading into the contest, Cleveland were one game ahead of Philadelphia in the standings as both teams sought to lock down third place in the East. The winner of this game would likely decide the fate of the third seed as Philadelphia would clinch the tie breaker with a win, while Cleveland would move ahead by two games with a win.
Many had expected LeBron James and the Cavaliers to win, even in spite of the double-digit winning streak the 76ers were currently enjoying. What happened next will live long in the memory of all 76ers and Australian fans alike as Simmons recorded one of the most dominant triple-doubles by any rookie in recent memory. Philadelphia shot out to an extremely unlikely 23 point lead at half time thanks to Simmons’ brilliance.
LeBron and the Cavaliers came roaring back in the second half to make a game of it, but ultimately they fell short as the 76ers took the win and therefore, clinched the tie-breaker between the two teams.
Simmons was ably helped all night by JJ Redick and Marco Bellinelli who both combined for 10 made three-point shots. What makes this performance more impressive though, is Simmons’ partner in crime, Joel Embiid was out injured that night with a facial fracture.
This was the night the NBA world took notice of this young 76ers team. Led by Simmons, the 76ers had beaten LeBron’s Cavaliers when they had it all to play for.
To the surprise of almost everyone, Simmons enjoyed a clean bill of health, almost all season. He finished with 81 games, missing only one game back in November with a minor elbow injury. After Simmons had missed the entirety of his first season in Philadelphia with a fractured foot, most 76ers and Aussie fans would have been content to see Simmons just play a full season uninjured.
The fact that Simmons not only achieved this, but played at an extremely high level all season is testament to his work ethic off the court and the fantastic work done by the 76ers training staff. Injuries have not been kind to Philadelphia in recent history (see Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz etc), but they appear to have emerged from this better for the experience.
Expectations next season
More of the same! Simmons is currently on pace to be Australia's first ever NBA All-Star and quite frankly, in with a chance at first ballot Hall of Fame honours. Russell Westbrook became the first player ever this season to average triple doubles in consecutive seasons. Any improvement in Simmons' game and he could be staring down the barrel of a similar stat line.
But most of all, a clean bill of health is what Simmons needs most. For the most part this season he enjoyed that and fingers crossed, he will continue to enjoy that heading forward to next season and beyond.