Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons was in the midst of yet another impressive season until a back injury cut his campaign short.
Stuffing the stat sheet on a nightly basis on his way to a second All-Star selection, Simmons established himself as one of the best two-way guards in the league.
However, with the point guard position being as stacked as ever, competition for the All-NBA selections is as fierce as ever and while Simmons has certainly elevated his play in 2019-20, has he done enough to earn a spot among the 15 best players in the Association?
Making the case
The 76ers no doubt fell short of their lofty preseason expectations, with a mismatched roster struggling for cohesion as the season went on.
Despite their inconsistencies, Simmons’ importance to the team on both ends can’t be underestimated.
Offensively, the 76ers almost grind to a halt with Simmons off the floor, mostly due to the lack of secondary playmaking options, however, the Aussie’s ability to control the speed and tempo of games, while finding his teammates for open looks with his unselfish and laser-like passing is the fulcrum to their offence.
As the team’s primary playmaker, Simmons creates 21.4 points off assists, well above the rest of his team, with Al Horford the next highest at 10.0 and Josh Richardson at 8.0.
The argument in Simmons’ favour is his growth on the defensive end.
Getting up and down the court with the ball is one thing, but then locking up the opponent’s best player on the other end, makes Simmons as valuable to his team as nearly anyone. Defensively, he ranks first in steals and leads the league defensive loose balls recovered and ranks second in total deflections.
Appearing in 54 games this season, Simmons averaged 16.7 points per game, 8.2 assists and 7.8 rebounds as well as a league-leading 2.1 steals, with the 76ers holding a 39-26 record.
In terms of playing the game on both ends and the impact on winning, few can boast the credentials of Simmons.
A big factor standing in Simmons’ way is his own teammate in Joel Embiid, who will likely earn an All-NBA selection, given the positional designation including one centre in each of the teams. Given the 76ers record and play this season, having two All-NBA selections would probably be a stretch.
With Luka Doncic and James Harden all but likely to the first-team guard spots, Simmons faces a tough task of unseating perennial All-NBA players Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook, as well as the likes of Chris Paul, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry and Kemba Walker. Even the likes of Trae Young and Bradley Beal could make an argument based on their numbers.
Discounting Young and Beal considering their team’s records, that’s seven players for four spots – each with a strong argument to be there.
Damian Lillard: Lillard was in the midst of one of the most explosive scoring seasons, piling up points with ease, particularly since the turn of the calendar. Despite his heroic efforts, the injury-plagued Blazers sat 3.5 games back of the eighth-seed at the time the season was suspended, but with season averages of 28.9 points, 7.8 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game, Lillard’s individual heroics will likely see him nab a spot on the second team.
Russell Westbrook: It took a while for Westbrook to settle into life in Houston, slowly finding his feet in the Rockets’ offence. However, following the trade of centre Clint Capela, the former MVP came to life, turning into a one-man freight train, powering his way to the rim and elevating his passing and rebounding at the same time. Through 53 games, Westbrook averaged 27.5 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists.
Chris Paul: One of the best stories of the season has been the surprising play of the Oklahoma City Thunder, who found themselves in the fifth-seed in the Western Conference. If pre-season expectations are anything to go by, the Thunder are the over-achievers of the season, thanks largely to Paul, who makes everything tick. His leadership, playmaking and late-game scoring have been a BIG reason why the Thunder are where they are and with a league-leading 144 points in the clutch, Paul is hard to overlook.
Kyle Lowry: For the Toronto Raptors, Pascal Siakam has been the go-to guy this season, but right behind him has been Kyle Lowry, powring them to the No.2 seed in the Eastern Conference. His numbers and team success hold up, but will the Raptors end up with two players in the top 15?
Siakam is a more likely option to get the nod, but with averages of 19.7 points, 7.7 assists, and 4.8 rebounds in 52 games, not many could argue his presence on the third team.
Kemba Walker: Walker hit the ground running Boston, however as the season went on, Jayson Tatum emerged as the no.1 option on offence. Like Simmons, games played may work against Walker, but with season averages of 21.2 points, 4.9 assists, and 4.1 rebounds, his chances of an All-NBA selection would most likely be on the third team.
Donovan Mitchell: Coming off his first All-Star appearance, Mitchell cemented himself as one of the league’s premier closers, often taking over down the stretch for the Utah Jazz, despite their ‘do it by committee’ philosophy.
Mitchell ranks fourth in the league in clutch scoring and with season averages of 24.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 4.2 assists, his numbers, complemented with the Jazz’s position in the fourth seed, give credence to him making an All-NBA team, but the competition for the third team won’t make it easy.
The final verdict?
Factoring in the above, Simmons faces a tough task cracking into one of the All-NBA teams, with his best chance, sneaking into the third team.
Assuming the top four guards in the league are Doncic, Harden, Lillard and Westbrook, that leaves Simmons competing with Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, Donovan Mitchell and Chris Paul for a spot on the third team.
A lot can change, depending on the resumption of the 2019-20 season, but as it stands, Simmons most likely would miss out on an All-NBA berth. If the season resumes and he continues his individual trajectory prior to getting injured, an argument could be made for Simmons over three of the aforementioned guards.
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