The Philadelphia Sixers once again find themselves in sole possession of the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference standings after a blowout win over the Dallas Mavericks. For the second straight game, the Sixers played well offensively, scoring 113 points and connecting on 38.7 percent of their triples.
As ever, though, it was Philadelphia’s vaunted defensive front that carried the night. Luka Doncic got his numbers in the game, but Dallas mustered just 95 points and 25 percent shooting from distance as a team.
Following Monday night’s games, the Sixers are second in the league defensively, conceding just 106.4 points per 100 possessions. It’s not a surprising statistic given the number of willing/able defenders on the squad.
However, Ben Simmons’ ability to lock down on the perimeter and guard five positions has arguably been the biggest factor in Philly’s success.
He’s not interested in just being the best defender on his team or one of the better defenders league-wide, though. Where keeping opponents in check is concerned, the three-time All-Star has much loftier ambitions.
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Simmons Gunning for DPOY Honors
After the win over the Mavs, Simmons made it known that he won’t be resting on his laurels defensively. Instead, he’s aiming for a level of defensive dominance beyond that of any other player in the Association.
He doesn’t just want to be the best — he wants to leave no doubt among the fans, pundits and prognosticators that he is better than everybody else.
“I want to be the clear-cut best defender in the league,” he said, via PhillyVoice’s Kyle Neubeck. “I don’t want to be second or third.”
Clearly, that mindset and the effort that it has ushered in has made a believer out of his teammates. As Simmons spoke during the post-game media scrum, Sixers rookie Tyrese Maxey shouted out, “Defensive Player of the Year!”
“He ain’t lying,” responded Simmons, via USA Today’s Ky Carlin.
That’s not just bravado from Simmons, either; some of the numbers give him a compelling case for the year-end honor.
When Simmons has been the closest defender, opposing players are connecting on shots at a rate 4.1 percent lower than their norms. He is also getting his hands on the ball at an impressive rate, averaging 3.5 deflections per game. Moreover, his 2.7 defensive win shares represent a top-three mark league-wide.
On the other hand, Simmons barely cracks the top 50 in FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR rankings. And his defensive real plus/minus number is just 0.01.
A Chance to Prove Himself Against the Elite
If Simmons truly wants to set himself apart from the likes of Rudy Gobert and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the league’s best defender, the next few games have given him a golden opportunity to do so.
With marquee match-ups against the Brooklyn Nets, LA Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks looming, he will have his hands full with some of the best scorers in basketball.
Over the next week, he’ll probably be asked to tangle with the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Devin Booker and Chris Paul. He could also find himself lined up with Antetokounmpo. And, as if all of that weren’t enough, the Sixers will also go toe-to-toe with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the days ahead.
If he can find some level of success against that group, the “clear-cut” part of his defensive goals may be a legitimate possibility.
At any rate, Simmons looks to be focused on beating the Nets first and foremost. To that end, his ability to throw shade is apparently just as developed as his defensive prowess.