In today’s hot take culture, it is often more rewarding for TV personalities or armchair Twitter GM’s to break players down as opposed to building them up. When the consensus on a player varies on a game by game basis, it becomes dubious for more casual fans of the game to realistically know which players deserve the praise and hate that the observers dish out. This can make trying to explain a players worth a nightmare, and scrolling through Instagram comments and Twitter replies an even bigger one. It is often incredibly frustrating for me to sift through mindless hatred of incredible players like James Harden, (he’s a ball hog!) Russell Westbrook, (he can’t shoot!) and even LeBron (he can’t literally do every single thing by himself and win championships every year!) when the reality of their abilities could not be farther away from the image social media portrays. Perhaps I care about this too much and am needlessly defending these men, but I digress. The most egregious recipient of this mindless poop flinging is our former #1 overall pick, Ben Simmons.
On nearly every social media post revolving around the 6’10 phenom, the top comments and most frequent comments will almost always be similar- “can’t shoot 3’s”, “shouldn’t have been ROTY”, “1 pt in a playoff game lol”, and my personal favorite quip that his infrequent turnaround jumpers are merely “deep layups.” To an outsider who doesn’t get a chance to watch Ben play, they could genuinely get the impression that Ben isn’t nearly as good as he is. And honestly? That needs to change. Ben Simmons game is not infallible, and I do not want to downplay his inability to pull mid-range jumpers, hit free throws, or nail a three. But, as ABC announcer Mark Jones beautifully remarked about Ben, ‘People always want to talk about what he doesn’t do well. It’s like watching a guy walk on water and saying “Well, he can’t swim.’”. To make this analogy plain and simple, sure Ben cannot “swim” by way of hitting 3’s or long jumpers, but does this deficiency mean that we cannot appreciate how someone with his size and skill set is consistently blowing minds as one of the most all around walk on water players in the league? Spoiler alert: it doesn’t, so let’s get to some appreciating.
Simmons is, like it or not, one of the most complete two way players that this league has to offer. His on ball defending is above average at worst, and his unique size at his position gives him the versatility to switch on and off of anyone on the court. As of a bit over halfway through the NBA season, Simmons ranks 15th in DWS, and 16th in VORP. His value on the defensive end is underappreciated, and defensive stats are lost on many, so let’s make things very simple. Simmons is currently averaging 16.5/8.5/9.5 without the jump shot that people clamor for, and those numbers are coming as either the 3rd or 4th scoring option on any given night. His rare ability to pile up numbers across the board combined with the aforementioned defense should be enough to win you over without really needing any additional context, but just for the fun of it there was a stat posted by Reddit user /u/Johnniehop that made my eyes pop.
This is, without a doubt, an inarguable testament to Ben’s impressively uncommon skill set. I saw some people say this statistic was cherry picked, but realistically being the second fastest to 2K/1K/1K is no ordinary feat and a far better test than ESPN’s “this player averages 47 on Monday’s on the road whilst the moon is in waxing gibbous”. What’s even more impressive looking at those numbers, is that the reason Ben didn’t join the club some games sooner was not his rebounds or assists, but scoring. Simmons had 51 more rebounds and 20 more assists in 9 less games when you look at his oft compared to Hall of Fame counterpart in Magic Johnson’s numbers. Another fun way to examine Ben’s ability to do it all is by way of looking at those same basic counting stats in the form of triple doubles:
Courtesy of the same Reddit user /u/Johnniehop, Ben ranks as the second faster player in NBA history to rack up 20 triple doubles, trailing only the great Oscar Robertson. Ignoring Ben’s electric start on both ends of the court would be criminal, and he still remains the young age of 22 with loads of developmental time left prior to peaking. Ben is doing seriously impressive things, and doing so only halfway through his second NBA season.
Thus, from me and everyone else in Philadelphia, you can take your “can’t shoot a 3”, “1 point in the playoffs”, and “deep layup” comments, and I’ll take my generational talent putting up Hall of Fame numbers in his rookie and sophomore seasons. His talent shines through when you put the Instagram comments away and simply allow yourself to witness greatness develop every single night. We’re in the age of social media and constant comparisons, so here’s another comparison for ya… your stars might be elite swimmers, but my superstar can walk on water.
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images