76ers

Ben Simmons has made a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year

Ben Simmons has made a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year

Looking back to Sixers media day in October, there was so much excitement and optimism around the team. Players talked about what they needed to do to win a championship and starting fresh with a new-look starting five.

Many of the things talked about that day haven’t quite come to fruition.

One player’s comments stood out, though. Ben Simmons was asked about his individual goals for the season, and at first resisted.

"Win a championship,” Simmons said. “Every other individual accolade comes along with doing your job. You can't go out and say you want to win certain things unless it's going to help the team win. I know I can tell you right now, Giannis [Antetokounmpo] would rather have a championship than MVP. That's just my mentality — I'd rather win and see everybody on my team do well than an individual accolade …” 

Simmons did concede one "individual accolade" he was interested in.

“ … unless it's Defensive Player of the Year."

He said it with a smile, and while it didn’t seem totally out of the realm of possibility, it was hard to know if Simmons would be in serious consideration.

If the NBA winds up cancelling the rest of the regular season amid the coronavirus pandemic, voters will have to choose awards based on the 60-plus games that took place. Based on what we’ve seen, Simmons has a strong case to take home Defensive Player of the Year.

Simply watching Simmons should be enough to make that case. There may not be a player that can switch so seamlessly one through five in the league right now. We’ve seen Simmons defend All-Star guard Kemba Walker, who stands at 6-foot-1, and then stand toe-to-toe with center Enes Kanter in the same game. It’s similar to what the Warriors’ Draymond Green, who won the award in 2016-17, is able to do.

Brett Brown has steered away from putting Simmons on opposing teams’ best players early in games. Given that Simmons is tied for eighth in the NBA in minutes per game and plays such a large role as the team’s point guard, Brown doesn’t want to overextend the 23-year-old. 

When called upon, Simmons has risen to the challenge. Players that he’s guarded this season include All-Stars like Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum and Pascal Siakam. The nine players that he’s guarded for at least 10 minutes have shot a combined 41.5 percent (54 of 130) against him. Overall, players Simmons has defended have shot just 41.3 percent.

Aside from just being able to guard his man, the numbers show Simmons has also been one of the most disruptive players in the NBA. Even with missing nine of the last 10 games, Simmons still leads the league in steals, both per game and total. He’s third in the NBA in deflections and tied for the league lead in defensive loose balls recovered per game. 

If you want to look at the impact he’s had on his team, it’s evident he’s behind the Sixers’ improvement on that end. The team was 14th in the NBA in defensive rating in 2018-19. The ranking went up to sixth this season. Replacing JJ Redick with Josh Richardson and any of the Sixers’ backup centers for Al Horford has certainly helped, but Simmons taking his defensive game to another level has been a huge factor.

Rudy Gobert has taken home the last two Defensive Player of the Year awards. While Gobert has proven to be an elite rim protector, you could make the argument that he doesn’t affect the game as much defensively as a player like Simmons.

There’s definitely an argument to be made for reining MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to win the award. The Greek Freak’s defense may be a little underrated because of how special of an overall player he is. The last player to win the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season was Hakeem Olajuwon in 1993-94. That’s certainly in play for Antetokounmpo.

The Lakers’ Anthony Davis and Celtics’ Marcus Smart should also receive serious consideration.

But when you consider everything, Ben Simmons has a real chance to win Defensive Player of the Year — just like he said he wanted to all those months ago.

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Buddy Hield's Instagram comment adds fuel to Sixers trade rumblings

Buddy Hield's Instagram comment adds fuel to Sixers trade rumblings

NBA players know their social media activity is monitored around the clock, so any likes, comments, or follows that reach the public are noteworthy.

Which is why one Buddy Hield Instagram comment has Sixers fans on high alert.

On Wednesday night, Hield posted a fairly normal social distancing Instagram post for an NBA player, of him working out. Nothing too crazy... until a Philly-area Instagram user with the handle @1kevaan dropped a "Trust the Process" in the comments, and Hield actually responded:

Now, it's no secret that Trust the Process is a Sixers rallying cry. After years of ignoring the phrase during the tanking years, even the team embraced the slogan, and allowed Embiid to introduce himself as "The Process" before games.

So Hield - a 27-year-old digital savvy basketball player who started playing in the NBA right around the same time "Trust the Process" reached the masses - not knowing what the phrase means is unlikely.

It's possible that Hield didn't think to connect the phrase to the Sixers while typing his response. It's equally possible that he did, because Hield's Instagram activity earlier this season pointed fans towards the idea of a Hield-to-Philly move in the first place.

Hield liked an Instagram post posing the idea of a Hield-for-Al Horford swap back in February, and hasn't removed the like in the month-plus since, which at least suggests that it wasn't inadvertent:

Hield signed a four-year extension with Sacramento back in October, but the Kings regressed in their first year under head coach Luke Walton, and The Athletic reported in February that Hield, unhappy with his role, might be eyeing a move.

In terms of contract length and salary hit, the Hield and Horford deals are strikingly similar, and Hield's game would be an instant improvement for the Sixers' offensive spacing: he's a two-guard who shoots a career 41.1 percent from deep, and can create his own shot. Plus, he's substantially younger than Horford.

Will the move happen? If the Kings deem their relationship with Hield unfixable, it's possible. Horford hasn't fit well in Philly, but he's still a savvy veteran with a good track record. And Hield would certainly check the boxes for the Sixers' front office.

We'll see!

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Sixers broadcaster Marc Zumoff calls a day in the life of guy stuck at home

Sixers broadcaster Marc Zumoff calls a day in the life of guy stuck at home

The city of Philadelphia absolutely wishes we were currently watching the Sixers right now in the middle of a championship run.

Alas, live games are on hold for the time being, so there's a Marc Zumoff-sized void in our lives.

But given all of the extra free time broadcasters and media personalities have lately, Marc Farzetta was able to create the dream of longtime Sixers play-by-play man Zumoff calling his daily life at home.

"Farzetta rises from his slumber!" Zumoff begins as Farzetta gets out of bed. "Farzetta scoops, packs, and sips. Yes!" Zoo continues as Farzy makes his daily espresso.

Not only is Zoo doing the play-by-play, but he passed it over to his broadcast partners Alaa Abdelnaby and Serena Winters for the assist at one point.

The execution is as crisp as a Ben Simmons alley-oop to Joel Embiid. Hopefully we'll get plenty more Zoo, Alaa and Serena in our lives sometime soon.