During a guest appearance on ESPN’s “The Jump” Tuesday afternoon, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers made a bold statement.
Rivers — in his first year at the helm of the Sixers — talked with host Rachel Nichols, as well as analysts Paul Pierce and Kendrick Perkins, about the status of injured big man Joel Embiid and the defensive prowess of superstar Ben Simmons, among other topics. Pierce and Perkins were both starters on Rivers’ Boston Celtics championship team in 2008.
When asked about the end-of-season individual awards, Rivers expressed confidence that both Embiid and Simmons would take home hardware.
For what it’s worth, Simmons said on Sunday that teammate Matisse Thybulle should be considered for the award.
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Rivers on Embiid’s Injury: ‘Not Concerned Anymore’
Pierce recently made some headlines for his comments not only on Embiid’s injury and how it impacts the Sixers’ chances but for an on-air gaffe after Sunday’s win over the San Antonio Spurs. Now that it’s been four days since Embiid’s injury, the longtime Celtics forward asked Rivers about his level of worry.
“I’m not concerned anymore, Paul. I was concerned the moment that injury happened,” Rivers said. “But once I saw – and (Perkins) you will understand what I’m about to say – once I saw Joel walk off the floor instead of getting wheeled off the floor in a wheelchair, I was a little more comfortable.”
Pierce famously was carted off in a wheelchair during the opening game of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, returned to the contest (rather quickly) and helped lead Boston to a victory. The incident spurred much skepticism throughout the league on the actual severity of the injury at the time.
Numbers Back up Rivers’ Award Prediction for Simmons
While the Sixers coach’s statement that Simmons is a “lock” for the award is a stretch, pinning him as the current favorite is not. NBA.com senior writer Steve Aschburner has had Simmons atop his “Defensive Player Ladder” for three consecutive weeks.
According to Basketball Reference, Simmons is among the league leaders in steals per game with 1.6 (tied for fourth) and defensive box plus/minus, at 2.0 (seventh.) Defensive box plus/minus is defined as a “box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player, translated to an average team.”
Additionally, Simmons’ defensive rating stands at 107.1 (16th) and he has 1.7 defensive win shares (tied for eighth).
So while Rivers’ bulletin board material for other defensive stalwarts like Rudy Gobert, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and even Embiid may be premature, Simmons could very well become the first Philadelphia player since Dikembe Mutombo in 2001 to capture the award. Mutombo split the 2000-2001 season between the Philly and the Atlanta Hawks, but no Sixers player has ever won the award (first introduced in 1982) after a full season with the club.