Three takeaways as Ben Simmons dominates against Phoenix Suns

PHILADELPHIA - Here are three takeaways from the Philadelphia 76ers' victory over the Phoenix Suns at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night.

1. Simmons living in the paint

Even for someone who normally lives around the basket, Ben Simmons was especially active in the paint tonight. All 13 of Simmons’ field goal attempts came at the rim.

The Australian was also fouled three times in the paint, so all told that is 16 shooting possessions all at the rim.

Entering the game, Simmons was taking 67% of his field goal attempts at the rim, per Cleaning The Glass. That figure placed him in the top one percent of all wing players in the NBA. His conversation rate of 64% on these shots is less impressive, placing in only the 63rd percentile. Finishing wasn’t an issue tonight.

Not all field goal attempts are made equal, even when they are so close to the basket. Simmons’ athletic gifts have always allowed him to penetrate and derive shots on the inside, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were good looks. A lack of finesse has been an area for improvement through his brief NBA career, and tonight we saw flashes of development in this field.

Simmons was patient with ball in hand, routinely waiting for the defence to set so that he could react and put himself in favourable positions. His primary matchup on the night, T.J. Warren, was unable to deter Simmons. The same can be said of Trevor Ariza, when he attempted to slow the reigning Rookie of the Year. After the game ended, the point guard flagged his ability to read the defence and leverage his talents.

“I was taking better drives through the lane,” Simmons said postgame. “I am slowing my game down and really learning where my spots are to get through the lane and get to the rim and make plays. I am figuring it out and still learning.”

Away from the basketball, Simmons has dug his heals in over the past two games. He is fighting harder for deep positioning in the post and emphasising his size better than any other point over his brief career. Sixers head coach Brett Brown identified the more attacking disposition in his star point guard.

I thought tonight there was a real focus on [Simmons] getting deep catches tonight. Holding seals a little longer and being fearless of getting a three second count.

“Once he got the ball, I thought there was a physicality that was impressive.”

Against Charlotte on Saturday, Simmons attempted a season high 11 free throws and physically imposed the Hornets en route to the most impressive all-around game of his season. He backed that up tonight. While his free throw shooting lapsed – Simmons finished 1/6 from the line against Phoenix – there was no slippage in his intent.

“I’m just being aggressive and learning when to attack,” Simmons added. “With my postgame also and my footwork. Knowing who is defending me. Trying to get to the rim and being more aggressive.

Simmons finished with 19 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists in 32 minutes. It must also be said that Simmons had five assists before he registered a field goal attempt. His ability to orchestrate the offence set the tone, before his scoring touch took over.

2. Embiid getting the Sixers into the bonus

As he is prone to do, Joel Embiid vocally talked trash to Suns rookie DeAndre Ayton back in September. “He’s about to get his arse kicked,” Embiid said of Ayton in a preseason interview with ESPN.

Tonight was the first meeting between the pair and while Ayton battled manfully, he was no match for an opponent who is continuing an historic start to the season. Embiid finished with a team-high 33 points, 17 rebounds, one assist, three steals and one block in a team-high 36 minutes of play.

Embiid's 33 points and 17 rebounds gave him a league-leading 11th game with at least 30 points and 10 rebounds. No other player in the NBA this season has more than four such games, and the last player with 11 such games during his teams first 19 games was Hall of Famer Karl Malone in 1991.

In addition to the plethora of stats Embiid is putting up, it’s his ability to draw fouls that has blossomed.

He entered the game averaging 8.1 drawn fouls per game, the second highest total in the NBA, and proceeded to treat the 20-year-old Ayton like he has the entire NBA this season. The rookie’s playing time over the second and third quarters was non-existent in the face of foul trouble that was directly attributable to Embiid.

Philadelphia is averaging the second most free throw attempts, due in large part to Embiid’s work in the post. He has become an unstoppable force and his team is benefiting.

“That’s what the team needs me to do,” Embiid said. “They need me to dominate and be a beast off the block, offensively and defensively.

“Like I always say, thanks to my teammates and my coaching staff, they put me in the best position to succeed. I just try to do my job. Obviously, the stats are going to come with it, but at the end, I think what matters are the wins. Lately, we’ve been getting a few and we’ve got to keep on going.”

Philadelphia barely got out of second gear tonight, but with Simmons and Embiid leading the way, they did enough to see off a pesky Phoenix outfit.

3. Moose on the loose

Mike Muscala also deserves special mention, as tonight was his best game as a Sixer. He scored a season-high 19 points and collected five rebounds in 23 minutes off the bench.

Muscala went 9-of-11 from the free-throw line and the majority of these were in direct result to him crashing the offensive glass. By my count, Muscala was fouled four times as he fought for offensive rebounds in the third quarter alone. With the Sixers in the bonus thanks to Embiid, the former Atlanta Hawk was rewarded via a career-high total in both free throw makes and attempts.

“Jo and Ben get us into bonus a lot,” Muscala said postgame. “So I think when they put a smaller guy on me and try to crash the glass, that’s what we stress.

“I was fortunate to get some calls and get into the offensive glass.”

In his last three games, Muscala is averaging 11.3 points per game in a reserve role. He has stepped into the void created by trading away Dario Saric in the Jimmy Butler deal. Brown made special attention to praise Muscala, emphasising his ability to help Philadelphia overcome their turnover issues that once again made an appearance tonight.

“The energy that [Muscala] had going to the offensive boards, in my opinion, when I study this stat sheet, the game was won because of our offensive rebounding.

“We turned the ball over, but we recouped some of those possessions because we got second-chance points. I think we had 21 second-chance points. Mike was instrumental at making efforts going to the boards.”

Bolden sidelined

In less positive news, the Sixers today announced that Jonah Bolden sustained an injury to his right leg that will sideline him for at least 10 days.

The injury resulted from contact with an opponent during the Delaware Blue Coats (Philadelphia’s G League affiliate) game against the Raptors 905 on Saturday. The official diagnosis is that Bolden has a small cortical crack in the proximal fibula of his right leg. Philadelphia stated that Bolden is out indefinitely and will be re-evaluated in approximately 10 days.

Bolden posted 12 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and two steals in Delaware's 126-111 win over the Raptors 905.

In three appearances in the G League this season, Bolden is averaging 17.3 points and 15.7 rebounds in 34.8 minutes per game. He has been played in six games for the Sixers in the NBA and the injury comes at an inopportune time for Bolden.