Welcome to "One Possession!" Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, the focus is on Philadelphia 76ers All-Star guard Ben Simmons.
Context: At Sixers media day in late September, Ben Simmons told reporters about his approach this upcoming season regarding team success versus individual success, saying "I would rather win and see everybody on my team do well than individual accolades unless it's Defensive Player of the Year." The one-of-a-kind 6-foot-10 point guard has already established himself as one of the league's most versatile defenders, yet he only received two votes for All-Defensive Team honours in the 2018-19 season.
The possession: A simple, yet impactful defensive possession against Kawhi Leonard from the 2019 playoffs shows Simmons' defensive versatility:
Breakdown: The action begins with a handoff to Leonard near half court. Typically, players would be discouraged from engaging a player this far from the basket, but Simmons' size, quickness and length allows him to pick up Leonard as soon as he gets the ball.
Laterally, Simmons is quick enough to shadow Leonard as he dribbles to the right wing in order to set up the next action, which is a ball screen set by Pascal Siakam.
Simmons then engages Siakam in the screen to initially fight over but Leonard momentarily retreats which begins the disruption of the intended action.
Siakam is now caught in between diving to the basket and rolling - essentially setting an unintentional moving screen…
Disrupting the action between these two - the team's two leading scorers - was extremely important given their role in the team's offence and their codependence on the offensive end. In the 2018-19 regular season, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry was the only player that assisted Siakam more than Leonard.
Simmons' length and quickness again work in his favour as he makes Leonard feel him once he attempts to use the screen.
Once Leonard attempts to get back to the right elbow, Simmons crowds his space, denying him the ability to get off a clean mid-range look.
Leonard, one of the best mid-range scorers in the league, heavily depends on this shot for his offence. Over a quarter of Kawhi's made field goals last season were mid-range shots, and he converted them at a 45.9% clip.
Disrupting the offence and making things difficult for both the team's No. 1 and No. 2 options is what Simmons' defensive versatility does in this example.
Simmons forces Leonard to kick the ball out to Norman Powell and the possession ultimately ends with a contested mid-range jumper, equating to a stop for Philadelphia.
Why it matters: It's early, but the Sixers defence has the potential to be historically stifling this season given the team's personnel. The unprecedented length present in the Sixers' lineup of Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid will make things difficult for nearly every team they face because of the multiple looks they can throw at other players.
Last season, the Sixers were in the middle of the pack with a Defensive Rating of 109.0, which ranked 14th in the league. All signs indicate that the team will drastically improve upon that ranking as it could very well be a top-five defence in 2019-20.
Given the team's personnel, Embiid and Horford will be tasked with guarding some of the best interior scorers in the league while Richardson will often have the responsibility of slowing down opposing team's best guard scorers.
While Embiid is the anchor as an elite rim protector, Simmons is unique because of the defensive versatility that allows him to cover both bigs and guards, as well as fill the gaps to cover assignments that Embiid, Horford and Richardson are unable to handle.
As shown above, Simmons has the defensive range to make things difficult for the league's best wings like Kawhi Leonard, meaning he also has the capability of slowing down the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Paul George and LeBron James. Should the Sixers exceed expectations as a team and have one of the league's best records and top defences, they will owe plenty of their success to Simmons taking the next step as an elite shutdown defender.
The team's title aspirations could hinge on Simmons' ability to defend Antetokounmpo to get out of the East and potentially Leonard or James should a team from Los Angeles advance to the Finals.
It's a regular-season award but if Simmons' defence can translate to that much team success, he would have a strong case for an individual accolade like Defensive Player of the Year.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.