The primary flaw in Ben Simmons‘ game remains obvious. He flat-out won’t shoot 3-pointers (1-for-6 in 28 games this season), actual ability aside. But the rest of his game is good, even if some will pine for him to score more (15.7 points per game this season).
As Joel Embiid has reached a new level offensively this year, and puts himself firmly in the MVP conversation, Simmons has mostly fallen into the background. Besides trade rumors that him going to Brooklyn for James Harden, of course.
Earlier this month, Simmons said he felt like he was the best defender in the NBA. On Thursday night, against Mavericks’ star guard Luka Doncic, he showed why he’s not wrong.
The 76ers beat the Mavericks 111-97 on Thursday night. Simmons had 15 points, seven assists (zero turnovers), three rebounds, two steals and a block. He guarded Doncic, who finished with 19 points (6-for-13 from the floor), with four assists and seven turnovers, most of the time.
That was just the fourth time Doncic didn’t score 20 points in a game this season. It was tied for the second-most turnovers he’s had in a game this season. Lastly, it was just his second game all season with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.
The four assists were Doncic’s season-low, and he took just 13 shots (3-for-6 from beyond the arc). The video clips in this breakdown from Jack Maloney of CBS Sports shows how Simmons forced Doncic into tough shots, got the ball out of his hands and generally made him work to get what he did get.
Doncic tried to downplay Simmons’ impact on his subpar game.
Simmons did a post-game interview with TNT’s Inside The NBA crew. He was not modest, declaring to Kenny Smith how he feels he’s the best defensive player in the league. The way he neutralized Doncic is a clear mark on that resume.
Listed at 6-foot-11 and 240 pounds, Simmons can guard anyone on the floor. So far this season he’s averaging 1.6 steals and 0.8 blocks per game, but those numbers don’t fully reflect things. He’s more notably averaging league-highs in deflections (4.0; 4.3 deflections per-36; tied for sixth) and loose balls recovered (1.5) per game (43 total, second in the league). He’s also third in the league in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (2.4), 13th in Defensive Win Shares (1.5) and 16th in Defensive Rating (107.2). Beyond the stats that don’t leap off the traditional page, Simmons is clearly an excellent defender. And it’s nothing new, now into his fourth season.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert stands as the Defensive Player of the Year front runner for some people. With what he does around the rim, it’s well-warranted. But when’s the last time you saw Gobert guard a smaller, quicker player, outside of a switch on a screen? Simmons’ work against Doncic Thursday night stands as something not many other guys (if any) can do.
The NBA’s position-less game puts a premium on defenders who can guard multiple positions all over the floor. Simmons’ performance against Doncic clearly furthers his case for Defensive Player of the Year. From this angle, it looks like the kind of showing that will ultimately cement the award for him.