Sixers

Can Simmons Maintain Newfound Aggression?

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Joel Embiid’s last-minute scratch from Monday night’s game deprived us of the marquee matchup of the NBA’s No. 1 seeds.

Instead, the basketball gods gave us the Ben Simmons game.

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Simmons scored a career-high 42 points on 26 shots including an impressive night from the free-throw line (12-13).

From the tip — which Simmons won against Gobert —  Simmons was in attack mode. He started the game 6-6 from the field and finished the first quarter with 19 points and five assists– the first Sixer to accomplish that feat since Allen Iverson back in 2005.

Simmons carried that aggression throughout the game, whether it was him attacking the paint when given space, posting up smaller mismatches or rolling hard to the rim as a screener.

Through three quarters, Simmons tied his career high in points (34), then finished strong in the 4th totaling 42 by the game’s end.

The All-NBA guard was also one rebound shy of joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only other Sixer to have a 40-point triple-double. His total of 12 assists easily would’ve been more if his teammates could’ve found more success from deep. Jordan Clarkson alone hit as many as threes as the Sixers. Outside of Tobias Harris, who also played his best game as a Sixer (36 pts, 14-24 FG, 3-5 3FG), the team shot 5-18 from deep.

Due to the three-point disparity between the two teams (PHI 8-23 vs. UTA 18-45), Simmons was unable to deliver a victory for Philadelphia. But even his teammates couldn’t help but applaud the monster performance from their Australian swiss-army knife.

“Man, from the start of the game, he was just on a mission out there,” said Tobias. “He was pretty amazing,” Harris continued. “Obviously, it would’ve been better to get a win and [have Ben] get a 40-point triple-double, but we’ll just have to save that for another time.”

Despite Benny’s career night being spoiled by a loss, this game is something him and the Sixers can build on.

Aggressive Mentality

What Simmons did in Utah wasn’t some flash of new tricks in his bags. Most of his damage was done in the paint, typical for his style of play.

What was new was the mentality to sustain that aggression for 48 minutes.

Simmons started the other night in Phoenix with this level of aggression (16 in the 1st half) but in Utah that relentlessness to attack the rim lasted all night.

That has always been the key issue with Simmons.

His mentality.

Without a reliable jump shot, Simmons has to rely on his speed and strength to create scoring opportunities. When he is right and locked in, Monday night’s performance doesn’t seem too surprising. However, Simmons will too often settle for touch shots instead of initiating and finishing through contact.

That was what made the other night in Utah so special.

The mentality to keep attacking and never let up on Utah’s interior D.

Following the game, Simmons discussed how he is molding that mental side of his game.

Statistically, this has been a down year for Simmons, but the last few weeks have seen him turn a corner.

The Sixers’ playoff hopes are better off if the aggressive Ben Simmons remains.

Free-Throw Trajectory

While Monday night’s dominance inside was impressive, the most encouraging aspect of Simmons’ performance was his success at the free-throw line. He got to the line 13 times and converted 12 of them.

On the offensive end, the focus for Simmons doesn’t need to be a three-point jumper or developing an off-the-dribble game. Instead, it needs to be what he put on display in Utah.

A relentlessness to attack the rim, and converting his trips to the line.

Take Embiid for example. He is almost averaging 30 a game and that’s because he leads the league in free-throw attempts and capitalizes on those opportunities (85.1 FT%).

Simmons can definitely uptick his scoring average, which is a career-low this season, by showing a willingness to take and make free throws.

Free-throw shooting is a mentality. Similar to the mindset to it takes to initiate and finish through contact, Simmons needs to be locked in when he’s at the charity stripe. Hitting 12-of-13 free-throw attempts means the form isn’t necessarily the problem.

Over the last five, games Simmons has been shooting 75.8% from the free-throw line– well above his career average.

If his recent trajectory holds Simmons can unlock another viable option for the Sixers heading into the postseason.

The Matchup Game

In Joel’s absence, head coach Doc Rivers started Mike Scott in hopes of creating the matchup he desired.

“We anticipated once Joel was scratched, we were trying to create a lineup where Gobert would guard Ben, and that happened”, said Rivers.

Getting the matchup Doc wanted, Simmons rewarded his coach time and time again.

“We just felt like no way anybody was gonna stay with him, especially the center. I thought Ben handled that very well”, Doc said after the game.

Once again Rudy Gobert is in the running for defensive player of the year, but Simmons understood this matchup was one he could exploit. Gobert, unable to keep up with Simmons’ downhill speed, had limited success containing the four-year LSU product. As a screener Simmons rolled hard to the rim, and was able to create easy looks for himself — and others — all night.

Tobias noticed Simmons’ cerebral approach to the game on Monday night.

“Ben’s a guy, he pretty much evaluates a game as he’s playing,” said Harris. “You can see at the beginning of the game, he knew that he can get by those guys with his speed. We just started finding some different ways to get him involved. He also just had that mindset wanted to do whatever he could to help us win tonight and that was more than anything.”

As seen in Utah, some nights Simmons can attack opposing bigs with his downhill style of play. Other nights he can expose size advantages in the post, creating either an easy look at the basket or a trip to the foul line.

Simmons playing the matchup game will be key for the Sixers as they prepare for a deep playoff run.

Reunion of the Embiid-Simmons Tandem

Ruled out with the flu, Simmons was unable to play in Wednesday night’s matchup against the Rockets.

He did just play in Utah, suspicious?

Either way Simmons and Embiid have yet to play together since Benny’s career night.

The Sixers were able to hold off a fourth-quarter push from Houston Wednesday night but sorely missed Simmons’ perimeter defense and ball creation down the stretch.

The big question remains.

Will Simmons be able to keep up that level of aggression once he shares the court with Embiid again?

Simmons’ performance in Utah was not about the many afforded opportunities but rather what he did with those opportunities.

Ben will scarcely see 26 shot attempts in a game with Embiid, but the way he sought out contact is a great sign for his scoring production moving forward.

With how Embiid is shooting the ball this season, the Ben Simmons we saw in Utah can still exist in games that feature a full-healthy Sixers roster.

Next up for Philadelphia is the Chicago Bulls Friday night.

Can the duo play at their best when they share the floor?

Follow us on Twitter @SixersLead for the latest 76ers news and insight. 

About Jeff Moran

NBA fan since the dark days of the early 2000's. Favorite player growing up was Allen Iverson. Self-loathing 76ers fan ever since. Argue with anyone, anywhere that MJ is the GOAT.

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