If you have even a halfway developed perspective on NBA basketball you already know Ben Simmons is something special.
It’s like that time McDonald’s debuted the Reese’s McFlurry; no matter how skeptical you were, every time you pulled up to the drive-thru and saw the orange and brown mix-ins on the menu, you smiled, and your heart was at ease.
You already know Simmons has been compared to Magic Johnson, LeBron James, and every other hall of famer that didn’t rely on a jumpshot. You already know Simmons is a perennial triple-double threat and one-half of the circus that takes place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, alongside Joel Embiid.
And, if you checked the standings, you already know that the Philadelphia 76ers are the biggest question mark in the NBA playoffs.
After a tank-a-thon that netted one of the best 1-2 punches in recent NBA history, the Sixers are revitalizing a city whose fans once clung to the hope that Michael Carter-Williams was the second coming of Rajon Rondo.
Simmons’ impact is felt on offense, defense and everywhere in between. At six-foot-10, he’s a scary cover for most traditionally-sized point guards but without the ball his terror is magnified 10-fold. On Saturday night, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Jeff Teague was the unlucky soul tasked with watching Simmons.
Watching is a kind term; Teague was baby-sitting him in the same vain that a 16-year-old “babysits” his 15-year-old brother: he was physically present, but entirely disengaged.
Knotting up a triple double in the third quarter, Simmons most glaring weakness isn’t even a weakness. At the free throw line Simmons’ allegedly broken shot is incredibly apparent. His left elbow flares out and he gets minimal lift, likely a byproduct of his near seven-foot stature.
Even though he shot free throws just four times and was 5-for-9 from the field, a missed shot doesn’t impact his flow. Midway through the third, Simmons floated a 13-footer towards the rim. It bounced off, some fumbling ensued, which was ended when Simmons recovered the ball and stuffed it through the hoop off of two feet.
If one of Minnesota’s blue shirts was in the paint he blended into the floor – Simmons makes everything, from getting rebounds to pushing the fast break look effortless.
Not effortless in the same way Giannis Antetokounmpo makes dunking from the free-throw line look easy. Effortless in the sense that you could line the court with thirteen bloodthirsty tigers and Simmons would find the open man or path to the hoop without flinching in the face of danger.
Where some scorers have their pace broken by a missed shot, Simmons keeps his motor going regardless of the stat sheet. His modest 12.6 field goal attempts per game neither allows him the chance to fall in a rut, nor usurp better shots from his teammates.
On the assist, Simmons’ vision is bleeding into the play of his teammates. On one play last night, Simmons shoveled the ball ahead to Robert Covington, who proceeded to draw defenders and kick it backwards to the trailing Dario Saric for the easy triple. The Sixers have the third highest assists per game in the league, in part to the willingness to make the extra pass initiated by Simmons.
Even with shooters like JJ Reddick and Covington in the lineup, the Sixers aren’t above passing up the open triple for an unattended deuce. In the City of Brotherly Love, Simmons and the Sixers are tuned towards sharing the wealth.
Ultimately, it’s unfair to say the Sixers have nothing to worry about. They are an unproven playoff team led by a tank commander turned Steve Kerr-lite in Brett Brown. But in a seven-game series, the better team usually wins, and with a healthy Simmons and Embiid the Sixers are as good an anyone in the East.