Welcome to ‘Winning Culture’ the new column focusing on the Philadelphia 76ers for tapintothemainline.com. Throughout the season we will be following the Sixers and trying to make sense of going from 10 wins to hopefully 55 in just three years. Be sure to check back each week for offbeat insights, weird references, and as many words about Joel Embiid as we can write.
It’s been a rough few days for the Sixers. They came into the week on a three-game win streak that they pushed to four by blowing out the Wizards Tuesday night. It was all downhill after that as they lost those same Wizards the next night and then took an L at home on Friday to the lowly Atlanta Hawks. They beat the Knicks on Sunday but only after giving up a 24 point lead. Considering they’re entering the toughest stretch of the season, it was not a great showing.
Despite all that, one player stood out for his all-around excellence, even in the losses, Ben Simmons.
As voting heats up and we approach the break, it’s time to ask, “Is Ben Simmons an All-Star?”
Simmons did not make the all-star team last year during his rookie season. After a few players pulled out due to injury Goran Dragic was named to the team over him. The selection seemed ridiculous at the time, and most assumed Dragic made it because the Miami Heat had no other representatives despite being 3rd in the East.
Simmons would go on to win rookie of the year, as well as finishing with more assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, and a higher field goal percentage than Dragic. Dragic was a better three-point shooter, however, by an order of magnitude.
This season the competition for all-star spots in the east is considerably tougher. There are a number of new players with solid cases in the division, including perennial all-stars Blake Griffin, Kawhi Leonard, and a healthy Gordon Hayward. Kemba Walker has taken a leap, Bradley Beal is keeping Washington afloat, Zach Lavine has raised his scoring nearly seven points per game. The East is more competitive this year than it has been in years and Simmons is unlikely to be voted in by the fans.
The NBA released the second round of fan voting results and Simmons is lagging behind. Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade are currently leading the vote among guards in the East. Kyrie is well out in front with 2.4 million votes. Wade is second with 1.2 million votes, a full 504,757 ahead of fourth place Ben Simmons. This is a little mystifying since Joel Embiid has 1.7 million votes. It would seem like most of the people voting for JoJo would also vote for Ben, but apparently, that isn’t the case.
There is a similar split with Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry. Leonard has just over 2 million votes while Lowry is 6th among guards with just over 488,000.
The point is, that’s a lot of ground to make up via fan vote.
The fan vote makes up 50% of the voting. The rest is 25% media panel and 25% players. Simmons is likely to run into some trouble there as well. As good as Ben is, the media is always hyper-focussed on his lack of a jump shot, and with the Sixers ongoing heel turn, the players aren’t likely going to be much help. As long as the fans would rather see the ghost of Dwyane Wade and freshman year philosophy student Kyrie Irving, Ben is going to have to get in on statistical merit. Luckily for Simmons, he has plenty of statistical merits.
All the following numbers come from Basketball-reference.com, the site I visit more than I check my email.
Simmons is currently averaging 16.5 points, 8.1 assists, 9.1 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 0.7 blocks. He is shooting .576% from the floor and .570% from the line. With the exception of his free throw shooting, and shooting 0.0% from three, those numbers at terrific. He’s 20th in the league in rebounding, and 6th assists. Though it is somewhat flawed as a catch-all statistic, he has the 16th highest VORP (value over replacement player) in the league, tied with Kawhi Leonard. He also has six triple-doubles on the year.
Simmons’ numbers are all the more impressive when you consider his slow start. After being the best player on the floor in the opening night loss to the Celtics, he struggled for a few weeks.
He had some good games but mostly seemed to be playing worse than he had in his rookie year, including a horrendous 11 turnover game in Toronto. He did not have the aggression he needs to have to play his best. He wasn’t getting to the rim as much and felt a little lost in the halfcourt.
There were plenty of reasons for this, the most often talked about one was starting alongside Markelle Fultz. The pairing of non-shooters limited the Sixers spacing and generally limited half-court options. After being part of last years top-scoring lineup in the NBA, it felt like a regression.
Things turned around with the Jimmy Butler trade.
Fultz went on hiatus and suddenly Simmons was playing most of his minutes with Butler. He began relentlessly attacking the rim on offense and his defensive focus seemed to increase as well.
Simmons has five triple-doubles in his last twelve games.
He hung 29 on Phoenix and 26 on Toronto. On Sunday vs the Knicks, he had what might have been his finest game on the season with 20 points, 22 rebounds, and 9 assists. He is even shooting -- and making -- a couple of jump shots per game.
Clearly, the numbers are there.
The Eastern starters are most likely going to be Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokoumpo, the ghost of Dwyane Wade, and freshman philosophy student Kyrie Irving. That leaves seven spots for the rest of the east.
The starters are split up between frontcourt and backcourt, but the reserves don’t have the same restrictions.
Among last years Eastern All-Stars, Lebron James and DeMar DeRozen have both moved to the West. John Wall, Kevin Love, and Kristaps Porzingis are all hurt. Leonard takes one of their spots in the starting lineup and the ghost of Wade likely takes the other. Al Horford, Bradley Beal, Goran Dragic, Kyle Lowry, Andre Drummond, Kemba Walker, and Victor Oladipo all made it as reserves or injury-replacements last season.
Bradley Beal, Kemba Walker, and Andre Drummond are all having similar or better seasons. Oladipo has been good but has missed 10 games and is scoring less. Horford has been hurt and his numbers are down across the board. Lowry’s assists are up but everything else is down, despite Toronto’s fine season. Dragic is hurt, and frankly wasn’t playing very well when he wasn’t hurt.
This all means there will be some new blood in the game this year. Blake Griffin will assuredly make it for Detroit, Beal will make it, Kemba Walker is likely too.
Beyond them, no one has as strong a case as Simmons.
Jayson Tatum has regressed, Hayward has been up and down, teammate Jimmy Butler is playing well but not exactly beloved across the league and is scoring less, Zach Lavine is all sizzle and no steak, no one knows who Pascal Siakam is outside of Toronto, Khris Middleton started off red hot but has cooled some. No one else really seems to rise to the top when looking at All-Star Resumes.
Ben Simmons is one of the best players in the NBA and certainly one of the best in the Eastern Conference.
He is showing growth and improvement in his second season and lately has been dominating games. He absolutely merits inclusion in the All-Star Game and I would be willing to bet he makes it as a reserve with no trouble.
I would predict the Eastern All-Star reserves are Simmons, Butler, Griffin, Walker, Beal, Lowry, and Oladipo. I could be wrong, but if I am, it won’t be about Ben Simmons.
Jacob Jones-Goldstein has written about the Sixers for Roundballrev.com, loves statistics, and Trusts the Process. He dabbles in fiction, watches a lot of movies, and goes to more concerts than he should.