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Could Ben Simmons win Defensive Player of the Year?

Whereas Rudy Gobert is the clear front-runner for Defensive Participant of the 12 months, Ben Simmons isn’t going quietly into the evening.

On the midway mark of the 2020-21 NBA season, Rudy Gobert is the overwhelming favorite to win his third Defensive Participant of the 12 months award. He’s anchoring a Utah Jazz crew that boasts the league’s third-stingiest defense, and opponents are averaging a comically low 103.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the ground.

Philadelphia 76ers level guard Ben Simmons isn’t conceding the DPOY race to Gobert simply but, although.

“I don’t suppose there’s a query who’s in it so far as Ben and likewise Rudy,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers stated Wednesday earlier than his crew took on Gobert and the Jazz. “These two are in all probability 1, 2, and I’m biased, however I’d put Ben [at] 1, I believe as a result of Ben performs everybody. Ben doesn’t simply play 5s. Ben performs 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. He’s performed each place on the ground, and when he’s performed these positions, he’s been in a position to give you stops. There’s only a few gamers within the NBA that may do the issues that Ben does defensively.”

Rim protectors are inclined to have an inherent benefit over wing defenders within the DPOY dialog. Because the final line of protection, they make extra of an apparent influence on a possession-by-possession foundation, whether or not they’re contesting pictures across the rim or deterring shot makes an attempt within the first place.

What’s Ben Simmons’ case for Defensive Participant of the 12 months?

Though Simmons’ defensive influence is much less pronounced, he’s equally disruptive. He’s holding opponents to solely 40.9 percent capturing, which is 4.3 proportion factors under their typical common.

One yr after main the league with 2.1 steals per recreation, Simmons is once more wreaking havoc in passing lanes and in opposition to ball-handlers. He’s swiping 1.6 steals and is tied for the league lead in each deflections per game (3.9) and loose balls recovered (1.4).

Simmons’ versatility is what units him aside from Gobert and the opposite main DPOY candidates. Whereas Gobert, Joel Embiid and Myles Turner spend a lot of their time defending different bigs and defending the rim, the Sixers sic Simmons on a wide selection of star guards and wings.

Amongst those that have performed a minimum of 500 minutes this season, Simmons ranks seventh leaguewide in BBall Index’s positional versatility metric, which measures how usually a participant defends every place. He’s additionally within the 99th percentile in matchup problem, per BBall Index, as he spends a majority of his time guarding among the NBA’s highest-usage gamers.

When the Sixers confronted the Portland Path Blazers on Feb. 11, Damian Lillard spent greater than 60 % of his ground time being defended by Simmons, in line with NBA.com’s matchup data. He shot 3-of-9 (together with 0-of-5 from two-point vary) throughout these minutes, together with this late-game possession through which Simmons relentlessly harassed him:

“I take satisfaction in guarding the most effective participant on the ground each evening,” Simmons instructed reporters after that recreation. “It’s not a one-off factor. When you watch me, I’m usually guarding the most effective participant. And usually the most effective gamers are guards, or capturing guards, level guards, no matter it’s. And I like that. I like the truth that my teammates can have a look at me and inform me, ‘You bought to exit and lock this man up.’ There’s nights that guys go off, it’s gonna occur. However more often than not, I really feel like I’m doing an excellent job and making the correct performs. I really feel like I’m the most effective defender within the NBA.”

Simmons backed that boast up two weeks later in opposition to Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic.

He held the MVP candidate to 3-of-7 capturing and 4 turnovers, in line with NBA.com’s matchup data. The Athletic’s Derek Bodner had Doncic at seven factors on 3-of-9 capturing and 5 turnovers in opposition to Simmons in comparison with 12 factors on 3-of-4 capturing in opposition to every other Sixer.

“He’s choosing up guards, he’s taking part in bigs, he’s taking part in 1-5,” Sixers heart Dwight Howard stated about Simmons after that recreation. “A pair video games in the past, he was taking part in in opposition to Rudy Gobert. Now he’s taking part in in opposition to Luka [Doncic]. He’s taking the concept that I can play anyone, I can test anyone on protection. I consider he’s the most effective defensive participant within the league proper now.”

Nevertheless, most superior metrics don’t agree with Howard’s rosy evaluation of Simmons.

Gobert has a commanding lead over the sector in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus — he’s at 4.55, whereas Atlanta Hawks heart Clint Capela ranks second at 3.88 — and he trails solely San Antonio Spurs heart Jakob Poeltl and Capela in FiveThirtyEight’s defensive RAPTOR. Simmons ranks 241st and 65thin these metrics, respectively.

Gobert ranks second league-wide in shot contests per recreation (15.0), trailing solely Milwaukee Bucks heart Brook Lopez (17.6). The Jazz designed their protection to funnel pictures towards their 7-foot-1 heart, whose 7-foot-9 wingspan helps him contest an array of layups, jumpers and floaters within the paint.

Opponents are capturing 42.6 % with Gobert as their main defender this season, which is 7.0 percentage points under their common. That differential is the third-best mark amongst gamers who’ve defended a minimum of 250 pictures this season, trailing solely Poeltl (minus-8.6) and Brooklyn Nets heart DeAndre Jordan (minus-7.5).

Simmons additionally might face an uphill battle in opposition to Gobert from a story perspective. Whereas the Jazz protection revolves round Gobert, Simmons will get to play alongside one other elite defender in Embiid. The Sixers permit solely 106.3 points per 100 possessions with each of them on the ground, however they offer up 117.0 with Embiid off and Simmons on.

Most of Simmons’ non-Embiid minutes are available in bench-heavy lineups, which helps to elucidate these defensive struggles. However the Jazz are permitting 6.5 points per 100 possessions extra with Gobert off the court docket than on, whereas the Sixers’ defensive score is slightly better with Simmons off the court docket.

On/off splits are sometimes noisy, and voters shouldn’t use them as the only real foundation of figuring out Defensive Participant of the 12 months. However given how dominant the Jazz’s protection is, Gobert’s lead in a bunch of defensive metrics and the dearth of elite defenders round him, it’ll possible be robust for Simmons to make up sufficient floor to overhaul him within the DPOY race.

He may need to accept a first-team All-Protection spot for the second straight yr as a substitute.

All statistics through NBA.com, Basketball-Reference or PBPStats.com except in any other case famous and are present by means of Wednesday, March 3. 

Comply with @btoporek

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