Simmons was a first overall pick, he’s a pillar of a very good Sixers team. He should be first team All-Defense at the end of the season. On Saturday night, Simmons led the Sixers to an improbable victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, getting to the hoop at will, passing out of the post and playing an elite defensive game.
For a player of his talent, a player with his accolades at this early stage of his career, Simmons is a figure of controversy. The non-existent jumpshot has had more podcast hours than any other player’s shot. His fit alongside Joel Embiid has fed into rumours of a blockbuster trade.
Comparisons with LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo have raised eyebrows, and would lead some to believe Simmons is overrated. If anything, though, the focus on his jumper has been a distraction from what he’s good at. No other All-Star has to deal with such an overwhelming focus on their weakness – all too often, Simmons’ strengths (and there are a lot of them) are overlooked.
The fit with Embiid, the clogged lane and slow pace, has hampered Simmons. Elton Brand has overhauled the roster to find a way to get the best of their two young stars. Whether it’s possible for them to thrive alongside one another remains to be seen.
Simmons has been superb since Embiid injured his finger. The team still isn’t perfect around him, but he has more space and he’s being more aggressive. Simmons is shooting over 65% from the field in his last nine without Embiid, along with 2.3 steals per game, just shy of eight assists, over 20 points and over nine boards.
All about the fit
The comparisons with Antetokounmpo make sense. The Greek Freak was, albeit not quite as reluctant as Simmons, almost a non-shooter a couple of seasons ago – Antetokounmpo, like Simmons, needs to be surrounded by shooters to flourish. They are both obscene athletes. The last few games have been a taster of what a team built around Simmons could look like.
Simmons has flown with the ball in transition, an unstoppable force either going to the cup or kicking out to a teammate on the perimeter. The offensive game might still be limited by his lack of a jumper, but his range of finishes have improved and his passing is up there with the best in the league. The defence is supreme. The combination of speed, size, quick hands and awareness making him a fringe Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Plenty are well aware of how good a player Simmons is. The jumpshot is an issue, particularly in an NBA when everyone can shoot. Perhaps, though, too much attention is paid to that jumper, and there isn’t enough appreciation of everything else. Because, and that’s what is so crucial, Simmons really does excel at everything else.
His unique combination of skillset and physique divides opinion. Add a serviceable jumper and he’s got MVP potential – that is the frustrating factor for Sixers fans and NBA followers alike. With or without shooting range, though, Simmons is a legitimate star, albeit on a roster than doesn’t bring the best of him.
If an All-Star can be the NBA’s most underrated player, then Simmons might just be.