The NBA will announce the full squads for its All-Star game on Wednesday (AEDT) and it looms as a slap in the face for Ben Simmons.
Despite relentless focus on his almost non-existent shooting and a lack of impact in the playoffs, the Aussie star has been steadily ticking off individual goals since he entered the league.
In his debut season he won a tight battle with Donovan Mitchell for rookie of the year honours.
The following season he made his first All-Star team — ahead of the likes of Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Devin Booker and Luka Doncic — before being handed a $240 million (AUD) contract extension, again before Brandon Ingram, Pascal Siakam and others in his draft class.
The acknowledgments kept coming last season when Simmons was an All-Star again and made the NBA All-Defensive First Team for the first time while gaining the All-NBA Third Team selection needed to trigger a $26 million bonus in his contract.
In short, he’s never really been snubbed, which is what makes tomorrow’s announcement so intriguing.
Ben Simmons is making a late run for the All-Star team. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)Source:Getty Images
If the reserves were named for the All-Star game a month ago the 24-year-old would have had next to no chance of making the Eastern Conference’s 12-man outfit.
Dragged into trade rumours for the first time in his career as the possibility of the 76ers shipping him out for James Harden became real, Simmons play appeared to suffer.
His statistics were trending downwards for the first time in years and the emergence of teammate Joel Embiid as a legitimate MVP candidate had Simmons’ superstar status on a downward skid.
But Harden’s trade to Brooklyn in mid-January appeared to lift a weight off the Aussie’s shoulders and he’s arguably been playing the best basketball of his career this month.
His scoring average has jumped from 13 points a game in December/January to 22 points in February and Embiid’s absence from a road game against Utah appeared to be the catalyst for Simmons’ new-found aggressiveness.
NBA: Despite posting up his best ever points tally, Ben Simmons couldn’t power his Philadelphia 76ers to a win over the Utah Jazz….
NBA: Despite posting up his best ever points tally, Ben Simmons couldn’t power his Philadelphia 76ers to a win over the Utah Jazz.
That 42-point explosion was followed by 28 points on 9/11 shooting against Toronto on Monday. In both games, critically, Simmons has shown an ability and willingness to take and make free throws.
His increased offensive output coupled with defence that very few people on the planet are capable of producing has seen Simmons make a late run for his third consecutive All-Star berth.
The Athletic’s John Hollinger has the Sixers guard making the cut ahead of scoring phenoms Trae Young and Zach Lavine.
“Why Simmons? He is far and away the best defender of this group and a magician in the open court,” Hollinger wrote. “Yes, I’d like to see him shoot a 3 once in a while and be more assertive offensively in general, and I understand the case against him … But I suspect history will look more kindly on this choice than any of the others.”
The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor is also adamant Simmons should make it and produced this compelling video clip about his other-worldly work on defence.
🗣 SIXERS FANS STAND UP!
Ben Simmons should be an All-Star this year and @KevinOConnorNBA explains why. #TheVoidNBA
He naturally has the vote of his coach Doc Rivers too, who believes Simmons should be rewarded for the 76ers’ East-leading 20-11 record over players like Young and LaVine who have better scoring average but whose teams aren’t currently in playoff position.
“I think anybody can get numbers on a bad team,” Rivers said. “Somebody’s got to score, you know. But I think it’s hard to play well on a good team. Much harder. I don’t think people give that enough love.
“We asked players on championship teams to sacrifice shots, pass the ball, play defence, you know just do some many thing to contribute to winning. And that always affects your numbers. Your numbers aren’t going to be as good, but your team wins.”
But Harden’s arrival in the East has increased the competition for spots and Simmons is certainly no guarantee.
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