Ben Simmons has been building his brand in recent days, most notably his candidacy for Defensive Player of the Year. The Philadelphia 76ers star point guard was a guest on ESPN’s The Jump on Tuesday and further stated his case for that award as well as a Sixers championship parade.
Simmons, fresh off locking down Luka Doncic, told Rachel Nichols that he’s the odds-on favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year over Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, a two-time winner and leading candidate once again.
“Definitely, 100 percent,” Simmons said of winning the award. “I’m one of those guys who can guard one through five. Obviously, there’s a lot of respect for Rudy [Gobert]. I know what he’s capable of. I know he’s great down there in the paint but he’s not guarding everybody — and then, that’s just what it is. He guarded me in Utah.”
And what happened in Utah, asked Nichols.
“And I had 42 [points]. And apparently, I’m not a scorer, you know, it is what it is. I have a lot of respect for him but at the same time, I think it’s mine this year.”
Not only that, but the 24-year-old Australian believes the Sixers have what it takes to bring home the franchise’s first title since 1983. Philadelphia currently owns the best record in the Eastern Conference and third-best in the NBA, with a prime-time matchup against the Brooklyn Nets looming on Wednesday night.
“I believe in my ability to make this team better and help win a championship and I believe we have the pieces to do it,” Simmons said. “But I’ve experienced playing those teams, the top-tier teams, and I think we do have what it takes to be the champions.”
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Simmons Doubles Down on ‘One Ball’ Comments
Simmons raised a few eyebrows after Monday night’s win when he suggested the Brooklyn Nets don’t commit on the defensive end. He complimented them on building a star-laden roster, then reminded everyone of the obvious: there’s only one ball. Translation: James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant can’t take every shot.
“There’s one ball and you have to play defense still,” Simmons said. “So, you know, I take pride in playing defense. If I’m able to get stops and give guys a hard time doing their job then we’re going to be able to go further. They have a lot of talent, but at the same time, you got to play together. It’s a team game.”
The Sixers (37-17) and Nets (37-17) hold identical records heading into Wednesday night’s showdown in Philadelphia. They want the No. 1 seed and need to stay locked in by disregarding the outside noise, especially the back-and-forth in the media.
“It’s about staying focused and not getting caught up in all the stuff going on around on the outside,” Simmons said. “We have to stay locked in, you know, it’s hard to win. I’ve been there, that one shot with Kawhi [Leonard], that was tough. But that was an experience that made me think, it’s not easy to win, especially when it comes to playoffs.”
Simmons was referring to that crazy game-winning shot in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals that sent the Sixers home early in 2019. The team has to walk by a mural depicting that shot in the Toronto airport every time they fly up there for a game.
Never Considered Being Traded to Houston
There was a myriad of rumors sending Simmons to Houston in a trade dating back to the offseason. New Sixers president Daryl Morey is a huge James Harden fan who acquired him for the Rockets during his tenure in Houston. It made sense that Morey would check in on his availability. However, Simmons told Nichols that the Sixers let him know he wasn’t going anywhere.
“I talked to people at the time and they told me I wasn’t going anywhere,” Simmons said. “It was a tough time but at the same time, it is a business and I’m still trying to win regardless of where I go.”
One reported trade offer had the Sixers trading Simmons, Matisse Thybulle and draft compensation for Harden but talks fell apart when Houston asked for Tyrese Maxey. That non-trade turned out to be a blessing in disguise.