SALT LAKE CITY – Figuring out how to guard Ben Simmons is a puzzle many NBA teams can't solve. The Sixers’ rookie keeps finding ways to contribute and impact a game – even when his shot isn't falling.
Simmons offered his latest evidence of that ability in helping the Sixers claim their fifth consecutive victory with a 104-97 win over the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night (see observations). He peppered the stat sheet with all sorts of impact stats as usual – 16 points, 13 rebounds, six assists, three steals and three blocks.
For Simmons, it is part of a continued quest for excellence. He wants to build a reputation as a winner, plain and simple. And he'll do everything to bring his team along with him.
“I'm not happy with losing,” Simmons said. “I feel like that defines me and that's just the way the game is. People are defined by how many rings they have. For me, I just want to win and while I'm in the league be one of those guys that's a winner.”
Simmons isn't just winning, he's elevating his game to a whole new level. He notched his seventh double-double in 10 career NBA games, becoming the first NBA rookie to have that many double-doubles in their first 10 games since Shaquille O' Neal did it 11 straight times to start the 1992-93 season.
Figuring out how to contain Simmons on either end of the court is a little like playing with fire. One way or another, teams end up being burned. Still, teams have to account for what he can do to influence a game as a 6-foot-10 point guard with loads of athleticism, an incredible wingspan and unmatched passing abilities for a big man.
“He's unique,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “I think everyone game plans against him, in one way or another, because he is the engine.”
One area where Simmons made his greatest impact against Utah came on the defensive glass. Simmons posted a career-high 12 defensive rebounds. It allowed him to get out and push the ball and set up some quick shots in transition.
The Sixers capitalized. As a team, they shot 12 of 27 (44.4 percent) from the perimeter. Dario Saric led the way with a career-high five three-pointers – part of his season-high 25 points. JJ Redick and Robert Covington each hit three three-pointers apiece. They finished with 20 points and 14 points, respectively.
When Simmons can rebound and push the ball like he did against the Jazz, the Sixers become a team that's almost impossible to guard.
“You’ve got to be ready to run when you play with Ben,” forward/center Richaun Holmes said. “It's an exciting way to play.”
Sixers coach Brett Brown said that Simmons grew tremendously after having the NBA equivalent of a redshirt year when he sat out last season with an injury. It allowed Simmons to watch the game and learn about it from a different perspective. Brown felt like it opened the door for him to get himself a little more acclimated to the pro game before diving in with both feet.
“None of us can dismiss the benefit that Ben Simmons had of effectively being a redshirt and taking it all in and not necessarily in real time,” Brown said. “The NBA is so unforgiving.”
If Simmons could turn back the clock, he would have erased the injury that cost him an entire season. Now, in hindsight, he can see where it helped him learn and grow. The biggest thing it taught him is learning how to be patient and pick his battles.
Now that he's on the court, he's going full speed and progressing at a rate that surprises even the coaches that worked with him from Day 1.
“I think it definitely helps, but you can't actually compare it to playing,” Simmons said. “I think I've learned more just being on the court and actually playing and seeing different teams and sets than watching. But it did pay off to be able to watch and learn the game.”