Throughout this season, Ben Simmons’ teammates and Doc Rivers, his coach, have talked about him being the defensive player of the year.
On Saturday, another endorsement came in -- from Simmons himself.
Speaking after the Sixers’ shootaround earlier in the day in preparation for Saturday night’s home game against the Sacramento Kings, Simmons was asked how close or how far he feels to being named the league’s top defender.
“I think I am,” Simmons said.
Less than an hour before the game, however, Simmons was ruled out with left knee soreness.
Last year, Simmons earned a spot on the All-NBA Defense first team. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounpmo was the defensive player of the year. The other first-teamers were Utah’s Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis of the Los Angeles Lakers, and Boston’s Marcus Smart.
The previous two seasons, the award went to Gobert, who is another top contender this year.
“No disrespect to Rudy at all, he is a great shot blocker, defender, but he’s not guarding one through five [point guards to centers], he is guarding fives and probably big fours [power forwards],” Simmons said. “He’s a great defender, but I don’t think he’s guarding one through fives, you can’t tell him to go guard Kawhi [Leonard] or Paul [George] or guard a point guard. He’s not doing that on a daily basis.”
The most recent example of Simmons’ shut-down defense came in Wednesday’s 109-105 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. According to NBA.com stats, Simmons held Antetokounmpo to 2-for-8 shooting with four turnovers, and no assists in the 8 minutes, 4 seconds of their individual matchup.
Just as much importance will be placed on Simmons’ offense, especially with Joel Embiid sidelined with a bone bruise in his left knee. Saturday was the fourth consecutive game that Embiid missed with the injury. The Sixers stated last Saturday that Embiid would be evaluated in two weeks.
In the first three games that Embiid missed with the injury, Simmons averaged 14.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 9.3 assists in 34.9 minutes.
Simmons was asked if he is looking to do a little more offensively in Embiid’s absence.
“I always feel like the more I can do, the more it’s going to help the team, not only when he’s out, but in general,” Simmons said. “The more I can contribute the better.”
With Embiid out, there are more chances for the 6-foot-10 Simmons to do what he is effective at doing -- posting up.
“There are just different opportunities and more opportunities to post up and get different looks and run different sets,” Simmons said.
On a topic away from the Sixers, Simmons was asked his feeling about the NCAA, which recently received criticism for the inequity in weight-room equipment provided for men’s basketball teams and women’s basketball teams competing in the NCAA Tournament. The women had a far inferior setting, which caused NCAA basketball administrators to apologize to the women players and coaches.
Simmons played one season of college basketball at LSU before being the No. 1 overall selection by the Sixers in the 2016 NBA draft.
“I mean, I don’t have any respect for the NCAA at all,” Simmons said. “What they are doing is wrong. I have seen the women’s stuff in the gyms, so that obviously is not fair. They have so much money, that they can’t set up a weight room and be equal with that, but that is [BS].”
Simmons then continued making his point.
“There’s no excuse for that; they have no excuse, there’s too much money to not be able to do that and take care of the women’s side,” Simmons said. “So, on that side, the NCAA has been [BS] about it. It’s disrespectful to those girls who are working just as hard as the guys and having the same opportunity.”