Philly’s New Favorite Ben
by Dave Gloeckner (4th and Go)
*First posted on www.4thandgo.com
He didn’t fly a kite in a thunder storm to prove lightning produced electricity. He doesn’t have a bridge named after him. Nor is his face on the hundred dollar bill. But the city’s new favorite Ben is doing things on the basketball court that have never been recorded in NBA history. Welcome Ben Simmons, the Sixers hybrid Point Guard/Small Forward, listed at 6’ 10”, who is making basketball fun again in our beloved city.
Simmons was drafted as the number one overall pick in 2016 and it came with huge comparisons to his unique game such as LeBron James and Magic Johnson. A big body forward who had an excellent handle, a superior basketball IQ and tremendous passing ability. There were negatives too, which included the lack of a consistent jumper and the fact that he couldn’t lead his collegiate team to a post season tournament. So when Ben hit the court in the summer of 2016 in Las Vegas, all of us Sixers faithful got to the nearest TV. We were watching meaningless summer league basketball in hopes the presumed specialness that was potentially promised was true. And at times, we saw glimpses of his exceptional skill set. From the open court speed to amazing passes, the legend of Ben was born.
And then the unthinkable happened. An untelevised team scrimmage at Stockton State University resulted in the worst news a Sixers fan could hear. Our first round pick suffered a significant injury, again. At first there was hope the injury would only sideline our new toy for a few months. But as the season wore on, and the team turned on the mute button regarding Ben’s rehab, it became numbingly apparent that Simmons would be sidelined for the entire season.
But all was not lost in the 2016-17 season. The emergence of 2014 first round pick Joel Embiid helped heal our wounded souls. And a January to remember, where the Sixers won 10 games, made dreaming big the newest dormant emotion to reveal itself again.
So when the 2017-18 season began, most fans were excited to see The Process pay off. Years of waiting and absorbing loss after loss would all be forgotten for a season of promise. But it felt like the promise was centered around a healthy Embiid. Understandably so since it was the piece we saw the most last year and his rookie game looked like it was only the tip of the iceberg. And we weren’t only buying into #21’s game. The optimism and hype multiplied as his legendary social media account grew in popularity and creativity. Joel was embodying the Philadelphia love and relishing the spotlight as it fueled his confidence and personality while allowing the other players to fly under the radar.
However, after the first 17 games of the season, it is actually Ben Simmons who has been the foundation to the Sixers success. The Aussie sensation is averaging 18.5 points, 9.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game. He has registered two triple doubles and scored over 10 points, grabbed more than 5 rebounds and dished out at least 5 assists in each game this year. In fact, Simmons became the first player in NBA history with at least 170 points, 100 rebounds, and 80 assists in a player’s first 10 games of their career. Something the Sixers stats department were proud to let the world know via Twitter.
.@sixers G-F @BenSimmons25 is the only NBA player (regardless of years of experience) to begin a season with at least 170 points, 100 rebounds and 80 assists in his team's first 10 games (https://t.co/F7rBzdJKvE).
— Sixers Stats (@SixersStats) November 8, 2017
With all the glamour that has come with Simmons’ start to his career, the most impressive part came this past week. The Sixers suffered an excruciating loss to the defending NBA Champions, Golden State Warriors, last Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. And you didn’t know how that would sit with such a young team. The highs are usually higher than most and the lows can linger too long. So when the Sixers took the court on Monday night against the Utah Jazz, there were questions about how long such a devastating loss could take a toll on them.
The Sixers came out flat on offense but were able to carry an 11 point lead into halftime. But it was evident that Saturday night still remained in their heads, that being a 22 point lead at half, as the team came out in the third quarter with a distinct resolve. And the one who made the largest of statements was Ben Simmons. He took over the game with a purpose we’ve yet to see from the stoic point guard. In the quarter alone, Ben scored 14 of his game high 27 points. For the half, he ended up 11 for 15 from the field with 22 points. It was plays like the below that showed Simmons’ determination in not letting Saturday replay itself.
— 4th&Go (@4thandgoradio) November 21, 2017
Even more telling was the post-game interview where Ben admitted that he knew it was time to take over and be the alpha dog that the team needed. In the post-game interview he answered a question regarding his second half performance from courtside reporter Molly Sullivan with an emphatic “I’m winning this game”. It was convincing and telling on both fronts. On a night when big man Joel Embiid admitted “The whole game I thought I was kind of flat, I was kind of going through the motions”, Big Ben answered by being the emotional and game general this team needed.
Earlier in the year, I felt Simmons was reluctant and gun shy late in games. The Sixers started slow, with only 1 win in their first 5 games. Case in point was the Rockets game where Ben went scoreless in the last 7 minutes of the game and turned the ball over in a critical situation. And then there was Monday night. While the game wasn’t nearly in question, it was only because Simmons didn’t let it get that way. On paper, it was eerily similar to both the Houston and Golden State games which the Sixers blew enormous leads and lost in heartbreaking fashion. The game against the Jazz showed us that Simmons has learned from those games and never wants to feel that despondent again.
At the youthful age of 21, Ben Simmons has already showed us he has the courage to know, even with big lights on other players, that he has the ability to take over games. And at the same time, he realizes he has to be the glue in all game situations that holds this team together. He has shown the basketball IQ necessary to speed up when the defense allows it and to slow it down when the game calls for it. He has evolved into a quiet and confident leader who with the ball in his hands late in games is starting to make winning decisions. It’s not all on Ben, but in order for this team to reach special places, the ball needs to go through #25. He is Ben Simmons, and he is lighting up the NBA as a rookie while wearing PHILA across his chest. He’s ours, and we’re relishing every moment he steps on the court.
Welcome to The Moment!