A Sixers Year that Was: Ben Simmons

Boy, was he worth the wait!

Boy, the 2017-2018 Philadelphia 76ers season was fun. You know what was fun?

Ben Simmons.

There’s nothing specific about that. Everything related to the Sixers 6’10” point guard was fun. There’s something great about watching a player like Magic Johnson in your teens, then seeing how Simmons plays and think: “Good god. It’s Magic in a Sixers jersey.”

When the Sixers drafted Simmons in 2016 to a thunderous roar, there hadn’t been that much excitement about an incoming rookie to this franchise since maybe Iverson in 1996. The debate raged on Twitter between Simmons and Brandon Ingram whom the Lakers drafted #2.

Before everyone looks up my Twitter history and uses it against me, I will admit that I was “Team Ingram”. I admit it, and I was wrong. It happens … a lot. I’ll hold that “L”, Sixers Twitter. No need to bring it up ever again.

When Simmons broke the fifth metatarsal bone of his right foot towards the end of training camp, Sixers fans had to wait to see him on the court — which was a trend we’ve become accustomed to. Sure, this is cliche’, but good things come to those who wait (another notion that’s well-established amongst Sixers fans).

Sixers fans waited, and heavens to Murgatroyd, Simmons is a good thing.

There’s so much to take away from that highlights compilation. Simmons is already an elite passer (37.4 AST%) and gets to the rim whenever and however he wants (46.2% of Simmons’s shots came within three feet of the basket). He’s a skilled rebounder (13.0 TRB% — which is third on the team among players who logged over 1,000 minutes).

Do you see where I’m going with this? Points. Rebounds. Assists. There were plenty of nights where Simmons had ten of each of those. The first of them came on October 23, 2017 when Simmons tallied 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists against the Detroit Pistons. The Aussie prodigy had two triple doubles in his first nine games — a 14-11-11 game came a little over a week later against Indiana.

That was a theme during the course of the season: Simmons collecting points, rebounds, and assists like Sonic the Hedgehog collects rings. By the end of the season, he had totalled 12 regular season triple-doubles. Simmons also became one of five rookies who got a triple-double in the playoffs (17-13-10 on April 21st against Miami), with the other four being Magic, Kareem, Jerry Lucas and Tom Gola.

At the All-Star Break, the Sixers were 30-25, and Simmons had averages of 16.4 ppg, 7.8 rpg, and 7.3 apg. You’d think that was enough to get him into the All-Star Game, right? Sadly, we know this not to be true. Despite Simmons’ impressive first half, he was left out for John Wall, Bradley Beal, Victor Oladipo and Kyle Lowry, all of whom had fewer fan votes than Simmons. He was snubbed in favor of Goran Dragic too, and that’s just indefensible.

Simmons did appear in the 2018 Rising Stars Challenge (the Rookie/Sophomore game) and had 11 points and 13 assists. He was four rebounds short of the best “eff you” triple-double this season. Can you imagine if Simmons had a triple-double in that game? Sixers Twitter would have blown up even more than it already had by that point.

There was no disappointment in his first playoff appearance, either. During the Sixers two-round run, Simmons averaged 16.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. Unfortunately, his series against the Celtics didn’t entirely see the same success. He infamously scored only one point in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. You chalk that up to going up against the strategically-gifted Brad Stevens, the best coach in the Eastern Conference. Experience and seasoning were supplied though, and Simmons will learn from it.

In total, it was a very successful first season for Simmons, but it wasn’t perfect. There were rough patches.

Simmons had a bit of a turnover bug-a-boo early in the season. In November, he averaged four turnovers per game and went up to close to 4.5 in December before dropping to 3.5 in January. Excuse that however you want. He was a rookie. He was new to the point guard position. Whatever the excuse, Simmons did improve by the end of the year (2.7 TOV per game in February and March).

We know what was talked about and said the most. How many times do we have to hear it?

Simmons needs to develop his jump shot. He can’t shoot outside of five feet. Is Simmons really right-handed? (Note to Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer: He’s left handed. I’ve sent you enough left-handed jump shot tweets this season. Give it up. He’s a lefty.)

If Simmons could add one thing this offseason to transform his game, it’s another level of scoring from jump-shooting. It’s not only a jump shot that he’s missing when it comes to scoring though. I get the feeling that he forgets that he’s 6’10”. If a smaller point guard or player in general (Terry Rozier, for example) is trying to guard him, Ben needs to develop the ability to get into, and score from, the post.

Maybe that’s something that will come over time. That’s just a small part of his offensive arsenal that hasn’t been tapped, yet. The jumper is one thing he can add, but how about more finishing at the rim over both shoulders in the post against any defender (larger or smaller). That, in addition to his athleticism and vision, would make him more of a nightmare than he already is.

What turned out to be a pleasant reality and not a dream was Simmons’ play on the defensive end. I outlined this for Liberty Ballers a little over a month ago, but Simmons was better defensively than I anticipated. His height and length are advantageous for the Sixers when defending other teams’ point guards as evidenced by his 226 deflections (tied for 10th), 140 steals and 70 blocks.

Simmons should be considered for an All-NBA Defense spot as he led the Sixers in both DWS (5.0) and DBPM (3.6) holding opponents to 43% from the field. This addition contributed to the team’s finish at 4th in DRtg and 11th in opponents’ PPG.

There was plenty to be pleased with regarding Ben Simmons’s rookie year. He has one or two things to add to his game offensively and then little minor tweaks here and there. It was a wonderful year one of many to come. Simmons was unanimously chosen to the NBA All-Rookie First Team along with Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum (damnit!), Kyle Kuzma, and Lauri Markkanen. Soon, he will add the Rookie of the Year trophy to his list of first year accomplishments. (He will. There will be hell to pay if someone other than Simmons wins that.)

All things considered, Ben provided Sixers fans an impressive rookie season that should have everyone excited about the future of this franchise.

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