PHILADELPHIA – Something rare happened to Ben Simmons on Wednesday night.
For the first time this season, and only the fourth during his time as a Sixer, Simmons was called for a technical foul as frustrations got the better of him.
In the third quarter of the Philadelphia 76ers' victory over the New York Knicks, the Australian lost his cool. A series of referee calls added to what was for Simmons, a sub-standard performance.
Annoyed with the lack of a foul call on the offensive end, Simmons’ frustrations were compounded when he was whistled for a personal foul on defence. He proceeded to bark at the referees and was, justifiably, T’ed up. Simmons lost his cool; outwardly towards the officials and internally, because of his play.
“I was pissed off with the way I was performing,” Simmons said post-game. “I don’t think I played well at all tonight.”
Playing well is, of course, a relative term. Simmons recorded a triple-double tonight, finishing with 13 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. What looked like a promising night at the office, wasn't deemed good enough, by Simmons' standards.
“If you look at numbers, obviously it’s a triple-double, but in my head I didn’t play well.”
While in just his second professional season, Simmons has quickly made the sublime appear standard within his NBA career. Collecting points, rebounds and assists provide tangible measures for the basketball community to fawn over. These metrics come easy to Simmons. His near seven-foot stature, combines with athletic gifts to facilitate a playing style seldom seen in the NBA. Oscar Robertson is the only other player in NBA history with as many triple doubles as Simmons (16) through his first 113 NBA games.
Does Simmons value the triple doubles? “No,” he said postgame, when asked to answer this very question.
He does, however, hold a healthy understanding of his talents.
Simmons appreciates that racking up triple doubles is one of his basketball gifts. He acknowledges that most NBA players will go through their entire career without, even momentarily, replicating the statistics he accumulates on a nightly basis. This is something Simmons accepts as fact, but a realisation he doesn’t dwell on.
Instead of focusing on what he can already do, Simmons is fixated on what comes next. And the best way to prepare for the future, is to review what he was unable to do in the past. That diagnostic process led to Simmons' third quarter emotional outburst.
Simmons was, in is own words, “turning the ball over too much and not being aggressive enough,” in the first half against New York. These were the main concerns, the points of anxiety during a performance that the majority of NBA point guards would be ecstatic at.
“I was frustrated,” Simmons said. “I want to play well for my team. I want to make sure we win every game that we play. The second half was a different kind of Ben.”
The “different kind of Ben” didn’t shine through in the box score; the majority of his statistical output was registered before half time. It was evident in more subtle ways. Like his mean-mugging of Noah Vonleh, following a brash dunk in the face of the Knicks forward.
In this moment, Simmons deployed the aggressive disposition that Brett Brown often mentions, when describing his point guard. A technical foul was symptomatic of Simmons' personal displeasure, but it also provided an antinode to his woes. It refocused the reigning Rookie of the Year, allowing him to lead a decisive Sixers run that took a three-point game midway through the third quarter and turned it into a blowout soon after.
J.J. Redick, who has repeatedly spoken to Simmons’ philosophical nature during his time in Philadelphia, gave voice to the origins of the Australian’s internal ambitions.
“Ben is great and he wants to be great. There are people who are internally motivated, and he is one of those guys. Because of that, he is always going to pick apart his performance. He is analytical. He is a thinker.”
Jimmy Butler, who noted that Simmons played a great game against New York, explained how Simmons' playmaking and ability to get teammates involved makes the Sixers a better team. He also wants his point guard’s mentality to remain exactly the same.
“I like his mentality in trying to dominate anybody that you put on him. I want him to continue to do that, no matter who it is, and I think he is going to be a big force for us late in the season and in the playoffs.”
Talk of the postseason is apt given what the Sixers hope to achieve this season. While playing into June is the ultimate objective, an immediate challenge now awaits. The Toronto Raptors head to Philadelphia on Saturday night and provide the ultimate litmus test.
Toronto, who currently own the best record in the NBA, have dismantled the Sixers twice this season. They have also exploited the shortcomings of Philadelphia’s starting point guard. Simmons has committed 19 turnovers in two games against Toronto this season and looked uncomfortable doing so.
Improvement is needed if Simmons wants to defeat the Raptors and stake his claim as an elite player in the Eastern Conference, and maybe a little frustration is his recipe for success. It certainly was against the Knicks.