Ben Simmons thinks he’s the best defensive player in the NBA. He’s probably right. However, Joel Embiid isn’t going to let him have the crown without a friendly fight.
The two superstars for the Philadelphia 76ers — owners of the league’s best record, by the way — have both stated their desired goal is to win NBA Defensive Player of the Year. Simmons was ranked the top defender in the league, per NBA.com’s Defensive Player Ladder, and didn’t mince words when talking about it. The Sixers starting point guard called himself the “best defensive player in the league.”
Meanwhile, Embiid tried to lay his own claim to the throne following the Sixers’ 131-123 win over the Utah Jazz. The All-Star center poked fun at Rudy Gobert in his post-game comments after local media members said he was “scared” of going up against the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner (2018, 2019). Embiid, the front-runner for MVP, dominated Gobert on Wednesday night en route to 40 points and 19 rebounds. Scared? No way.
“I want to dominate. On the offensive end, but mainly on the defensive end, because that’s the goal I set for myself at the beginning of the year,” Embiid said. “Without winning, you’re not part of those conversations when it comes to Defensive Player of the Year, MVP, and all that stuff so that’s the first thing. I want to win.”
Doc Rivers Campaigning For Simmons
Embiid doesn’t need anyone to campaign for his candidacy for anything. He does enough talking for the entire Sixers roster. Simmons, on the other hand, quietly puts his head down and guards the best player on the opposing team every single night.
That’s why Sixers head coach Doc Rivers has been lobbying hard for Simmons to win NBA Defensive Player of the Year in recent weeks. He’s not going to stop, especially not after his star guard held Donovan Mitchell to 12-for-34 shooting from the field. He had to work for every inch of his 33 points.
“I’m just gonna keep saying it, Ben, if he doesn’t win, and I don’t ever campaign,” Rivers told reporters on Wednesday night. “This may be my last campaign speech, other than for president, he guards the best every night. I mean, Donovan Mitchell, if you just look at the 33 points he was 12-for-34. No one does that to him, and Ben does it and he does it every night to everyone, so he’s been amazing. He needs more credit.”
Embiid Ties Charles Barkley for Franchise Mark
Embiid has posted at least 40 points and 10 rebounds in five games this year, more than all other NBA players combined. He now has hit those numbers in 13 career games to tie him with Charles Barkley for second-most in franchise history. Embiid has to win NBA MVP, right?
The 26-year-old big man also has eight career games with at least 40 points and 15 rebounds, plus he’s scored at least 18 points in 19 straight contests. His season-high of 50 points — Feb. 19 versus Chicago — made him just one of nine Sixers players to drop 50 in a single game. Allen Iverson did it 13 times.
“When I came into the league, I never thought I would be that good offensively,” Embiid said. “I always focused on the defensive side, and that’s always been my goal to win it [Defensive Player of the Year]. It’d be nice to do it, but like I said, that’s been my focus coming into the league, and obviously, the scoring and the offensive side has taken over.”