Ben Simmons has captured the imagination of the NBA despite barely troubling the stat line in the 76ers 109-89 win over the New York Knicks.
Sure, it was the second game of the season, and it was the Knicks, but Simmons has already put his hand up for the defensive player of the year with a stunning performance.
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Simmons managed 15 points, nine rebounds and six assists but it was at the other end of the court that he went to work.
He had two blocks and a steal but more importantly shut down new Knicks weapon RJ Barrett.
In the Knicks’ opener, Barrett, the third overall pick in the 2019 Draft, had 26 points in opening of the season in a brilliant start to his sophomore season.
The 20-year-old had no answers for Simmons however as the Aussie kept Barrett to 10 points, six rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes.
He shot just two from 15 from the floor and went 0-from-6 from three-point range.
Simmons, who has been widely panned for his failure to take jump shots over his four years in the NBA has been allowed to just play his game.
And he used the licence to pull off plays like this.
While he’s considered the most likely bargaining chip if the Houston Rockets’ James Harden is to come to Philadelphia, Simmons had the NBA going mad for his brilliant defensive play.
ESPN sports talk radio host Alan Hahn tweeted: “You’re a fool if you’d be willing to trade Ben Simmons. What he lacks in three-point prowess he makes up in competitive intensity and defence. Absolute winner. Game changer.”
ESPN’s NBA and NBL reporter Olgun Uluc added Simmons appeared to have taken his game to the next level.
“Ben Simmons will drop a bunch of ordinary stat lines this season – 15-9-6 tonight; and sure, that’s decent for him – but that’s not really a good indicator for a guy like him, because he’s just been out of this world defensively. He’ll be in the DPOY conversation all season,” he tweeted.
“Tonight, Simmons was the primary defender on RJ Barrett; Barrett shot 2/15 from the field. And that’s on top of Simmons being an absolute nuisance on that end of the floor. He seems more locked in than ever.”
It’s a positive performance from Simmons who has regularly been weighed down by expectations in the past, particularly around shooting a jump shot.
But speaking on ESPN’s First Take earlier this week, Stephen A. Smith took the criticism directly to 76ers coach Doc Rivers.
Rivers said “I don’t care about Ben’s shooting as much as so many other people seem to care about it” and said he wanted to let Simmons just play.
Smith called it “blasphemous” although he said he thinks Simmons “is a jump shot away from being LeBron James 2.0 that’s how gifted I think he is”.
Rivers responded: “It is important in the long run, let’s be honest, but I want Ben Simmons to play free. I don’t want him to play thinking about shooting a jump shot. I want him to play downhill, get in the paint, make plays, get to the free-throw line, something that no one’s ever told them like get to the line as much as possible 10 times a game if you can get there.
“If we average 120 points per game this year, do you care where they’re from or do you care that we’re efficient and doing it? That’s what I’m trying to tell Ben. I think naturally those shots will come and he works on them every day but I don’t want him going into a game thinking about shooting a jump shot.”
The freedom to get out there and play appears to be working.
After the Knicks win, 76ers coach Doc Rivers praised the 24-year-old Simmons.
“He’s got so many skills, and we’re trying to get them all out of him,” he said. “His instincts are unbelievable. We got three’s just because Ben Simmons pushed the pace. I thought he was terrific tonight.”