Critics can say what they want about Australian Ben Simmons rarely taking jump shots, but no-one can deny his contention for the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.
Along with Doc River who arrived at the beginning of the season, the three-time All-Star has played a huge role in the Sixers becoming one of the elite defensive teams in the NBA.
The only player stopping Simmons from being dubbed the league No.1 defender is Rudy Gobert, who has won the award twice in the past three seasons — 2018 and 2019. And last year he came in third behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis.
Simmons beats Gobert in steals per game and overall team defensive rating, while Gobert ranks first in defensive win shares (4.0) this year and is number one in the defensive rating among qualified players (100.8).
But if you ask Simmons, he already has the title in the bag.
“It’s the same with people all around me. I tell them all the time, ‘Yo! I’m Defensive Player of the Year,’” he said in an interview with GQ.
“I’m not even questioning it right now. I know I am. That’s a fact.
“The example would be last night. I was supposed to guard [Kevin Durant]. We match up well size wise. KD’s out. The next person I’m guarding is Kyrie [Irving]. Like, who’s doing that? It’s not many players who are doing that.
“To be doing it at a high level like that, I don’t think there’s anybody else really doing that. I mean, Kawhi [Leonard] when he was really playing defence like that, of course. But it’s not too many guys.”
With a month left in the regular season, other areas of Simmons’s game have also become talking points. His points per game are down this month and the 24-year-old almost never shoots threes.
However, Simmons says the only criticism he will take on board is from those closest to him.
“You have certain people in your world. I’ve got the Sixers organisation. I’ve got my family. I’ve got my agents. I’ve got college coaches. I’ve got high school coaches,” Simmons told GQ.
“Just because I’m not listening to the dude on the TV and these guys on the radio doesn’t mean I don’t have people. And who’s to say they’re correct?
“Most of these guys off these shows have jobs where they’ve never played the game at a high level. How do they know, really, what they’re talking about? Or is it just their opinions at the end of the day?”
Like all elite athletes, Simmons has had the opinions of spectators and commentators thrown at him since he was drafted No.1 in 2016, but he says over his five years in the NBA he has learned to block out the noise.
“When I first came into the league I read a lot more of it but I’m at the stage now where I try to ignore everybody,” he told GQ.
“I don’t go on Twitter. I don’t read too much into what people are saying about me. I don’t watch ESPN. I don’t watch SportsCenter, none of that. They’ll tell you if someone puts ESPN [on] in my house it’s going straight off.
“There’s no SportsCenter, unless it’s a game going on or something like that. There’s no Stephen A., there’s none of that.”
Not only confident in his ability to go down as the 2020/21 NBA Defensive Play of the Year, Simmons is also positive the Sixers have what it takes to win the title.
“If we get that No.1 seed, we keep our hopes up in terms of the energy. Knowing we’d have home-court advantage would be big for us, especially if we get the fans all back,” Simmons told GQ.
“Our record at home has been pretty good, it’s always been good the last few years being able to be home. I think this is the year for us to do it, honestly, win the championship. I genuinely believe that.
“I feel like there have been years where guys would’ve said it of the Sixers, but I don’t think we really believed it. But, I genuinely think this is the year.”