Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons’ elite versatility and improved offense

Ben Simmons is developing into an all-around stud for the Philadelphia 76ers.

In the midst of adversity, Ben Simmons uplifted his game and flourished on both ends of the basketball court. Simmons concluded his 13th playoff game with a 31-point victory over the Brooklyn Nets and joined Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson as the one of only three players in NBA history to record 200 points, 100 rebounds, and 100 assists through their first 13 playoff games. Despite a small sample size, Simmons’ efficiency and defensive aptitude against Brooklyn solidified his status as an elite player.

Simmons’ elite defense

In spite of the Brooklyn Nets’ guards dismantling the Philadelphia 76ers‘ defense with their heavy utilization of the pick and roll, Simmons embraced his responsibility and adjusted well. As the series between the two progressed, Simmons’ defensive close-outs improved fantastically. Similarly, he fought through contact on screens, significantly better than usual, to pester opponents on handoff and pull-up shooting opportunities. In fact, Simmons’ regular season speed on defense translates to 3.66 MPH which is more than 0.10 MPH below his average defensive speed throughout the postseason this year (3.77).

In Simmons’ second postseason appearance, the defensively stout guard is averaging the 10th most steals per game (1.2) in the playoffs among qualifying players. Although Simmons is tallying nearly as many steals per game as both his season and career average, he is blossoming into a more versatile defender.

As Simmons further physically fulfills his 230-pound frame, his defensive awareness improves in conjunction. In 10 playoff games a season prior, Simmons blocked just eight shots, contrary to his six total blocks in five postseason games thus far. In addition to placing eighth in the league for postseason blocks per game (1.2), Simmons currently owns the third most postseason deflections (16.0) and collected the third most postseason deflections per game (3.2). During the regular season though, Simmons averaged the league’s tenth-most deflections per game (2.7), a reflection of his improved awareness on the defensive end in the first series.

Simmons is allowing opponents to make an average of just 3.2 of their 11.6 field goal attempts, equating to the tenth best defensive field goal percentage (27.6) in the playoffs among players to appear in at least four games. Simmons is surrendering, by average, less than one isolation field goal attempt per game and less than two spot up field goal attempts per game. From 15-19 feet away from the basket, Simmons is limiting his opponents to a 11.1 field goal percentage. Prior to the Sixers eviscerating the Nets in the final game of the series, Simmons completely neutralized Brooklyn’s offensive anchor in D’Angelo Russell.

In the fifth and final game of the series, Simmons’ defense was detrimental for Russell’s shot selection and the Nets’ guard temporarily disappeared.

Simmons’ improved offense

Despite the absence of a frequent jump shot, Brooklyn struggled to contain  Simmons, as he elevated his offensive prowess and dominated. Simmons improved his postseason points per game average compared to last season’s count and remains on pace to score more total postseason points than a year ago in two less projected games.

Simmons owns the 15th highest effective field goal percentage (64.3) in the post season, an 11.1 percent differential compared to his career average. Likewise, Simmons earned himself a top-25 placement league wide for postseason true shooting percentage (64.6) and continued to dissect Brooklyn’s defense from close range. Simmons posted a 42.5 field goal percentage on shots between five and nine feet away from the basket in the regular season, but made 58.3 percent of his attempts there in Philadelphia’s five game series.

Against the Nets, Simmons cut to the basket 3.7 percent more often than in the regular season and scored 2.5 more cutting points per game. Though the paint is not exactly unchartered territory for Simmons, he improved both his scoring and passing there in the Sixers’ first round series.

Simmons shot up to par around the rim (67 percent) but shot 59 percent (91st percentile) on 17 attempts that were not at the rim. Not once in Simmons’ career has he posted a mid range field goal percentage over 38 percent, but he improved there by +21 percent against Brooklyn. The combo guard ranks in the 100th percentile for points per shot attempt (130.3) this postseason, accompanied by the likes of Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant.

Simmons’ versatility

Simmons’ development as a hybrid guard is ever-growing and he provides Philadelphia with invaluable versatility. Simmons posted a career high assist-to-usage ratio of 1.46 in this postseason, just 0.12 below the league leading Nikola Jokic. This metric “estimates how pass-first a player is by looking at their AST% and comparing it to their usage,” according to Cleaning The Glass.

Next: Sixers' 15 greatest playoff moments

Simmons is distributing more assists per game (8.0) this postseason than he did in the previous season and contributed a career high 2.2 screen assists per game. Finally, Simmons achieved a career high 7.3 percent offensive rebounding percentage this postseason, indicative of his newfound aggressiveness and acceptance of the role as the engineer of the Philadelphia 76ers’ offense.