Ben Simmons is an unstoppable force
ON the eve of the NBA playoffs, Jalen Rose sprouted a popular opinion about the biggest concern surrounding Ben Simmons' game.
"I'm going to tell you the thing that actually can haunt (the 76ers in the post-season)," the 16-year veteran told ESPN.
"Ben Simmons can't shoot free throws. And what's going to happen is a) he's going to get fouled and b) he can't shoot threes. So teams are going to then slump off him, take away the space in the half-court offence and play a mental game.
"Almost like when you're at the park and someone's open from 15 to 18 feet and you just walk away from them, like 'whatever, go ahead (shoot)'. That plays with your psyche. I'm looking to see if teams are going to do that."
It seemed like sound logic if you looked at Simmons' shooting percentage on jump shots (not good) and didn't think the 76ers coaching staff were prepared for this approach (not smart).
It took one game for the theory to be thrown out the window.
Like Rose predicted, Miami sagged off the young point guard in game one and watched as he hit three-point shooters with unpressured passes to rack up 14 assists in a 130-103 win.
In the pre-game coverage ahead of game two on NBA TV, former Pistons point guard Isiah Thomas argued the opposite of Rose's game plan.
"What Miami is allowing Ben Simmons to do (when he has the ball at the three-point line), they're playing back here at the foul line similar to the way people used to guard (Rajon) Rondo," Thomas explained.
"But when you have an excellent passer like Simmons ... that allows those guys to pick you apart. If you're coming off a screen ... if there's no ball pressure you can give it to him right in his shot pocket, on time and on target.
"What you want to do when you're guarding a guy like Ben Simmons, you want to get up into him - and now you want him to have to turn his body to protect (the ball). What that does is eliminates one side of the basketball court.
"What people are allowing him to do is have his shoulders square to the basket, he can see both sides of the floor, he's got all five passing lanes open.
"Miami has got to get up and put pressure on the basketball and take away those passing lanes."
In game two, Miami applied more ball pressure on the Aussie and won the game 113-103.
But most would agree the key differences were Philly's three-point shooting (18/28 in game one, 7/35 in game two) and the way the Heat defended those shooters.
Sure, Justice Winslow bothered Simmons at times, even drawing an offensive foul at one point that appeared to be a moment of frustration.
But Simmons still finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists - and led a Philly comeback in the second half while Winslow sat on the bench because he was in foul trouble.
"He was good," Sixers coach Brett Brown said of his young star. "I thought he handled their pressure and physicality well."
What's becoming increasingly clear is there really isn't a way to stop Simmons - just like there's no way to stop LeBron James or Kevin Durant or Steph Curry.
Sure you can try to make their life harder - and they will have off nights - but it's a case of pick your poison.
Simmons is by no means the finished product those other players are, but he's the best player in this series, jump shot or not.