When it comes to his defensive prowess, Philadelphia 76ers All-Star forward Ben Simmons isn't afraid of tooting his own horn. After the Sixers game against the Trail Blazers in Portland on Thursday night, Simmons explained to media members why he thinks that he's the best defender in the entire NBA.
"I take pride in guarding the best player on the floor every night," Simmons said. "It's not a one off thing. If you watch me [play], I'm typically guarding the best player. And typically the best players are guards, or shooting guards, whatever it is. And I love that. I love the fact that my teammates look at me and tell me 'you've got to go out and lock this guy up,' There's nights that guys go off, it's going to happen. But most of the time I feel like I'm doing a good job and making the right plays. I feel like I'm the best defender in the NBA."
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These comments came after Simmons was tasked with slowing Blazers star guard Damian Lillard, which he did, despite the fact that the Blazers ultimately ended up pulling out a win over the Sixers. Lillard finished the game with 30 points, but he was just 6-of-21 from the floor, and 3-for-9 when guarded solely by Simmons. The performance was the latest example in a long line of situations where Simmons has made things tough on an opponent's top offensive option.
The fact that Simmons thinks he's the best defender in the NBA is a good thing. Great players should think that they're the best. Also, it's refreshing to see a player take so much pride in his defense in a league that has become so offense-oriented. Plus, it's hard to dispute Simmons' claim. "Best" is a vague term, but Simmons is probably the most versatile defender in the entire league when you consider that he's tasked with guarding a plethora of positions. No other player is asked to guard the same array of top-tier talent on a nightly basis.
Over the course of the season, Simmons has guarded the likes of Bradley Beal, LeBron James, James Harden, Jerami Grant, and Lillard, among others. His defense on Harden in the second half of the game between the Sixers and Nets earlier this month was the catalyst for Philadelphia's win. The story was the same when the Sixers bested the Pistons last month. Jerami Grant entered that game riding a streak of 14 consecutive 20-plus point performances. Simmons and the Sixers held him to 11 points on 3-for-19 shooting.
"I feel like when I'm locked in and ready to go out there, defensively, it's tough for anybody to really score on me or take advantage of certain mismatches," Simmons said after that game. "I feel like I'm a dominant defender when I'm locked in and ready to go... I don't really care who I'm guarding. I just love the challenge of holding guys to less than whatever they're averaging and just doing my part."
Given the fact that the league's other top defenders -- guys like Rudy Gobert, Anthony Davis, and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo -- are largely lauded for their ability as help defenders, and aren't typically tasked with locking up perimeter players, the argument could also be made that Simmons is the league's best perimeter defender. Plus, his defense leads directly to solid offensive opportunities for Philadelphia since Simmons is lethal in transition.
In the play below, Simmons prevents James Harden from getting a return pass by jumping the passing lane. He then takes the ball and proceeds to drive down to the other end of the floor for an emphatic slam.
In the guts of the game against the Blazers on Thursday night, Simmons pressured Lillard into a tough shot attempt, and his miss turned into an immediate fast break opportunity for the Sixers as Simmons pushed the ball and found Seth Curry for a game-tying 3-pointer.
Simmons makes plays like those on a nightly basis, and his defense is central to the Sixers' success. For those that like numbers, Simmons leads the NBA in deflections per game, which is a statistic that's good for measuring a player's activity on the defensive end. He's also sixth in steals per game. Simmons made the NBA All-Defensive First Team last season but finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting. If he keeps playing defense at the high level that he has so far this year though, that hardware could be his at the end season.