In his first two NBA seasons, Ben Simmons had 22 triple-doubles. Through his first 12 games of the 2019-20 season, he had yet to record one.
With a little over two minutes left in Friday night’s 115-104 win over the Spurs (see observations), he had 10 points and 12 assists, but was stuck on nine rebounds. As Keldon Johnson’s shot went off the rim, it fell into the lap of Joel Embiid. Instead of corralling it, he tipped it to Simmons.
It was a sign of respect among teammates — something we’ve seen throughout the roster despite some early growing pains offensively.
While Simmons may have followed up hitting his first NBA three with a poor shooting night (3 of 10 from the field, 4 of 8 from the line), the impact he’s having as a point guard and a leader continues to show.
“I see it in him,” Brett Brown said. “When he missed the free throws, it didn’t surprise me that he was going to come back and make some. He doesn’t melt. Ben Simmons does not melt. There’s an inner strength and confidence that I see at a young age, that he bounces back. Whether it’s that or many other instances I can point to. I think that’s his spirit, I think that’s his nature, it’s how he’s wired.”
Since media day, Simmons has talked about wanting to be more assertive and more of a leader. It was evident throughout training camp that Simmons and Tobias Harris wanted to assume leadership roles. Both players have been at the forefront of organizing team activities like paintball outings and movie screenings.
But it’s also showing on the court in the way the whole team is communicating. There is a mutual respect among the players. There were multiple instances on Friday night where guys weren’t on the same page. Specifically, there was one play where Simmons was expecting Harris to pop but Harris cut to the basket instead.
The two talked it out quickly and moved on to the next play.
“It's a respect thing,” Harris said of the exchange. “Obviously like in the heat of the moment, it's a turnover and then for me too, it's like an execution type of thing. But we say a couple words and then next play be like, 'Hey, let's just move on. Next one, we'll get it.' [It's just] miscommunication at that point. We talked about in the beginning of the season, we want to be a team that's able to have transparency and communicate with one another in a productive way and I think that goes along even outside of the basketball court of that respect level that we have for one another.”
With so many new faces, these moments are inevitable.
Another happened between James Ennis and Al Horford defending a pick-and-roll which ultimately led to a Spurs’ layup. Ennis appeared upset and said something to Horford. On the next possession, you could see Horford tap his chest to take the blame and the two dapped each other up.
Horford, a veteran in his 13th year, has stressed the importance of communication throughout the young season.
“We're constantly talking out there,” Horford said, “and it's to the point where guys are getting comfortable trusting in the people that are behind them and usually the bigs were the ones that have to talk a lot of the times. The guards need to trust what we're telling them and things like that and that's how we're on a string. Usually what happens with younger teams is that there's not much talk and I've experienced that in the past in other teams. So we have to really get them talking and really get them engaged and that's how I feel like you become a better defensive team.”
Respect and trust are important aspects in maintaining healthy communication.
It helps when the team’s two young All-Stars are leading the way in that regard.
“Obviously, I knew that he needed a rebound to get a triple-double,” Embiid said. “All I did was try to get him that. That's good for him. I'm happy for him. It's going to be the first of many this season.”
A simple gesture, but it says a lot.
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