Ben Simmons has been following up winning the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year award with another fantastic season and will be playing in his first All-Star game on Feb. 17. At 6-foot-10, the first overall pick from the 2016 NBA draft is one of the most unique and talented players in the league. Despite this, the league is well aware of the holes he still has in his game at this early stage of his career.
During a matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers this past Sunday, LeBron James gave the rest of the NBA a reason to pull out their pen and paper and take notes, forcing Simmons into his worst shooting game so far this season. For LeBron, the secret to defending Simmons wasn’t anything new.
He sagged off and gave the giant point guard extra room as he crossed half court and played low to prevent him from finding an easy path to the bucket. However, James took it a little further than any other player has this season.
Here's a possession where LeBron guarded Ben Simmons … FROM THE KEY. pic.twitter.com/MCRpsPqSTn
— ESPN (@espn) February 10, 2019
LeBron spent time defending Simmons, who was at the top of the 3-point line, from just outside the restricted area. In terms of scoring, this forced Ben to choose between two options. Either he could commit to taking an open shot from long range, which is something he tends to not do and has shown no ability to be able to do well or find his way to the basket as his defender is already positioned down low and could easily anticipate his movement. Just like in the video above, it didn’t work out well for Simmons.
This also helped cut off another part of Simmons’ game: his passing. Ben Simmons arguably has some of the best court vision in the game today and is an incredibly skilled passer. However, with James down low, he was able to bounce around among other Sixers players, providing help defense and stuffing up the passing lanes. This was a big help in stopping the initiation of offense when the ball was in Simmons’ hands. A free roaming LeBron on the defensive end isn’t anything new, as it is something he has always done, but this was a special case.
Only the Golden State Warriors have a higher percentage of their points scored coming off an assist than the Philadelphia 76ers, so the ability to prevent Simmons’, who is tied for third in assists per game in the league, from getting the ball in the hands of his teammates down low at the basket, whether to a cutting Jimmy Butler or a ready-to-post-up Joel Embiid, was a significant help.
With limited options elsewhere, Ben Simmons was forced to take a decent amount of shots. To quantify, his three field goals on 13 attempts was his worst shooting efficiency of this season, shooting 23.1 percent for the game, and his second worst of his entire career.
Specifically, when guarded by LeBron James, he was just unable to get anything going.
On the 50 possessions that LeBron guarded Ben Simmons, the young Sixer was only able to put up four points. He shot 1 of 10 from the floor and made two free throws. He also turned the ball over twice and committed an offensive foul. Meanwhile, James failed to accrue any fouls of his own.
It seems that LeBron may have unlocked the blueprint on minimizing Simmons’ impact on the game. While it has always been important for him to develop a consistent and comfortable jump shot, if he is greeted with defense like this on a regular basis from now on, it may become more crucial than ever that he adds some kind of range to his arsenal.