One thing is painfully obvious in the back stretch of the 2019-2020 season…the 76ers need aggressive Ben Simmons to stick around for the second half. Übermensch Simmons. MechaSimmons. Super Saiyan Simmons. Whatever advanced form of Simmons we’ve been spoiled with for the past month needs to stick around for the rest of the year to kick start this team into the upper stratosphere of the NBA.
Aggressive Simmons is the best Simmons by far, and he’s spoiled us with his hyper-aggressiveness over the last month with the way he can play every single night if he so desires. We’ve seen what you can do when you want it…can you give it to Philadelphia for the rest of the year?
He’s the most important part of the 76ers run in the second half, maybe even more-so than Joel Embiid, and it would be a shame if he reverted back to his tentative style of play for the rest of the year.
What has clicked in Simmons in 2020? What switch did he push? It’s easy to point to Brett Brown’s decision to finally move Al Horford to the bench to open up huge swaths of lane for Simmons to raze his way to the basket like General Sherman’s march to the sea, but that’s only been for one game. How do we account for his sustained success leading to the all-star break? He’s averaging 21 points, nearly nine rebounds and eight assists over his last 10 games…and maybe most importantly he’s shooting 75% from the free throw line.
Was it the sustained stretch of games where Embiid didn’t play due to his hand injury? Did it finally click in his head that he could be a dominant offensive force for this team if he WILLED himself to the basket, drew contact, got freebies at the foul line and remembered that he’s a near 7-foot, physically gifted freak who can get anywhere on the court whenever he wants? Was it that simple?
Over the nine game span Embiid was absent, Simmons averaged 21.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game, well over his current averages for the entire season. He dominated games like Howard Eskin at the Sidney Furs & Sons clearance rack. Nobody could stop him from getting what he wanted.
He’s getting to the line more as well. In December he attempted 88 free throws (making 50 for a 56% clip) in 16 games; in January he attempted 89 free throws (making 60 for a 67% clip. Better!) in 13 games; and in February he’s attempted 40 free throws (making 27 for a 67% average) in just six games. Compare those months to February where he attempted only 47 free throws in 14 games….that’s not wonderful.
Did…did he forget he’s a 23-year-old Adonis with an otherworldly handle who is so physically gifted only a handful of defenders in the league can stop him going where he wants to on the offensive end in November? Or, more likely, did something change in his mindset as the year went on? Did Simmons (GASP) start to figure something out?
If something finally did click in his mindset for good, if he keeps finding his way to the hole every night and keeps snatching souls on the defensive end, than god forgive the rest of the NBA.
Everyone knows what they’re getting from Embiid night in and night out. He’ll get you 23 and 12 every game, maybe better if he decides to impose his will, play amazing defense and garner most of the attention on the offensive side of the ball.
But Simmons? One night he gives you 20+ points, flashes pure dominance for 40 minutes, and then the next he puts up an eight point stinker out of nowhere and disappears on the court for long, LONG stretches at a time. If he can stay aggressive, score 15+ points a night, get to the free throw line at a higher level and continue to play elite level defense, he never has to take another jump shot or three point shot in his life. Who cares? Leave that up to Glen Robinson III and Alec Burks when he’s feeding them wide open looks as he barrels his way effortlessly through the lane.
If Simmons can just maintain his state of mind, maintain his aggressiveness and limit the stretches where he completely disappears on offense he’ll be worth more than any move Brown can make, any lineup tinker, any contract buyout they could make for the rest of the year.
What’s it going to be, Ben? You want to take this team on your back? Or is being an all-star reserve enough?