Ben Simmons entered the 2019-20 season with the lofty goal of winning the Defensive Player of the Year trophy.....and almost midway through the season he might just be making as strong a case as anyone.
For all the talk of Simmons' limitations offensively when it comes to shooting the ball, on the defensive end of the floor the Aussie has made major strides, leading by example for the Philadelphia 76ers.
At 6-foot-10 Simmons creates a mismatch for opposing point guards every night and with his size, length and athleticism, he can seamlessly switch between chasing smaller guards around screens and bodying up big men in the paint, giving the 76ers the kind of defensive flexibility to switch everything.
The 76ers currently have the NBA's seventh-best defence, giving up 105.0 points per 100 possessions, with their starting lineup boasting a lean defensive rating of 96.6 in 211 minutes played together. The lineup of Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid features only one player under 6-foot-8 in Richardson (6'5), giving them both size and versatility, but it's the presence of Simmons at point guard that makes it all work.
Simmons is currently first in the NBA in steals at 2.2 per game, first in loose balls recovered at 67 total and third in deflections with 126 total, trailing only New Orleans Pelicans' All-Defensive first team point guard Jrue Holiday and Chicago Bulls defensive-minded guard Kris Dunn.
Not only is he making plays on defence, he's making it happen in crunch time.
Against the Indiana Pacers a few weeks back, Simmons single-handedly closed out the game on the defensive end, coming up with three stops in the final 30 seconds of a game that was decided by three points.
Ben Simmons with ANOTHER big time steal for the @sixers! #IndianaStyle 116#PhilaUnite 117- NBA (@NBA) December 1, 2019
3.8 left on @NBATV pic.twitter.com/fjvYRG6Rax
What makes Simmons different than most is the impact his defence has on not only his, but his teammates' offensive production.
Simmons wants to get steals and deflections, pressure ball handlers, force turnovers and get into transition. One creates the other.
"I love being able to get steals and make guys turn the ball over. I have a sense of pride in that," Simmons said after the 76ers win over the Jazz earlier this season, where he became the first player this season to record five 4-steal games.
"I just love guarding great players. I take that challenge upon myself, I really don't mind who I'm put on. It's always going to be a challenge and I enjoy it,"
That has perhaps been the biggest jump for Simmons this season, evolving into the 76ers leader on court and his head coach Brett Brown couldn't be happier to see his point guard embrace the challenge on the defensive end.
"He's ticking the box on the all-defensive team that I have challenged him on. To me it's a no-brainer," Brown said.
Simmons enjoyed a career night against the Cleveland Cavaliers at the start of December, scoring a new career-high 34 points on 12-of-14 shooting, three rebounds, seven assists, two steals and two blocks. While his offensive production was impressive, his work on the defensive side of the floor was one of the highlights of his performance.
In just 26 minutes on court, he was devastating on the defensive end, with his length on the perimeter bothering the Cavs' backcourt all night as he effectively played the passing lanes, cut off drives and created transition opportunities at every turn.
When he's causing havoc like that on the defensive end, the offence comes easy.
He has a niche in creating doubt in opposition players' minds when sizing up the Aussie, letting him dictate where he wants his opponents to go, while his size allows him to quickly recover to make plays.
Just look at how he toys with Darius Garland before swatting his three-point attempt:
Simmons' jump shot is widely seen as the thing that is holding him back from becoming a truly elite player, but the strides he's made on the defensive end this season are only speeing up that process.
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