Stylistically, Philadelphia 76ers stud Ben Simmons and the reigning MVP have more in common than one might think.
I’ll start this piece off with a disclaimer: Ben Simmons isn’t Russell Westbrook. He’s not nearly as talented, and their individual skill sets boast more differences than similarities. There’s more to player comparisons than a generalized, all-in equivalence, though, and there are parts of their games that bear resemblance. Those similarities, in many ways, are what help shape their production.
There’s a clear gap physically. Westbrook stands in the 6-foot-4 range, while Simmons is legitimately pushing the 7-foot mark. Simmons can match almost any point guard stride-for-stride, but doesn’t quite have the raw explosiveness that makes Westbrook so unique.
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With that in mind, it’s how they use those physical tools that could draw some comparisons. Westbrook can beat his man off the dribble in almost any scenario, drifting around the 3-point line before gunning at breakneck speed down the lane. If his first step isn’t enough to overwhelm his defender, his strength allows him to battle through contact and get to the rim with a near-unfair sense of ease.
Simmons uses his combination of quickness and size to do the same. He’s a walking mismatch, and is able to get a running start and leverage his first step on most defenders. If not, his physique is virtually impossible to fully contain underneath — whether it’s his slick footwork and fluid movement or pure strength on the block.
Westbrook is a far more adept finisher at the rim, which is where Simmons could stand to learn some from the triple-double machine. While Russ embraces contact, Simmons tends to shy away from it and lean on pull-up floaters or extra, at times excessive passes. If Simmons can add that extra gear of aggressiveness and willingly take on bodies at the rim, his offensive proficiency will take a significant leap forward.
They’re also similar in their approach on the defensive glass. While Westbrook relies on athleticism more so than size and positioning, his ability to crash the defensive glass is heavily dependent on how Billy Donovan uses him. A lot of Oklahoma City’s best offense comes in transition, and Westbrook getting on the boards and immediately push the ball up court is a major source of those opportunities.
The Philadelphia 76ers have found similar benefits with Simmons. His size and speed are virtually impossible for opposing teams to match on the fastbreak, which means having him grab rebounds and generate transition looks is a ticket to easy looks, both for himself and shooters like J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless.
That has factored heavily into Simmons’ double-double averages thus far, as the 21-year-old has totaled 10.8 boards per contest through four games. That’s where the bulk of Westbrook’s rebounding came in his historic 2016-17 as well, with the Thunder focusing almost entirely on putting Westbrook in a position to do the most damage possible — even if it came as a detriment to some of the players placed around him.
Albeit in different ways, both Westbrook and Simmons are able to leverage their physical tools for the same purpose: to attack and create on offense, or to grab-and-go defensively. Not many guards outside of James Harden prove similarly capable in either of those facets.
There’s still a lot of ground for Simmons to cover before he’s in the same conversation as Russ, or even remotely close to it. But he does have the kind of transcendent talent that, in time, could develop into a legit star in a league that’s built on the kind of versatility he provides.
We’re still a few years out from seeing where Simmons’ career is heading, but any slight similarities to somebody of Westbrook’s caliber has to be taken as a positive. They are — again — very different players, but their similarities are worth pointing out.