BY: KWAME FISHER-JONES
Philadelphia 76ers’ rookie Ben Simmons will face his biggest challenge to date on Saturday night. As the first year guard continues to put together one of the more impressive rookie campaigns in recent memory, Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green offers as a much different test for the young pup.
Green plays with an infinite amount of basketball intelligence wrapped in an unbridled amount of passion and energy. This will mark the first time the rookie takes the court against such a player, and how Simmons handles the forward’s intensity on both ends of the floor will be intriguing. The 76ers’ guard has played well through the first 11 games of the season, averaging 17.4 points, 9.4 boards and 7.8 dimes, but the league is not always about numbers. How will the rookie, who many have compared to NBA legend Magic Johnson, fare when standing toe-to-toe with the 2016 – 17 Defensive Player of the Year?
There is no doubt Green will be ready for action, because the champion is ALWAYS ready for action. This game will be no different, especially with oft-injured Sixers’ center Joel Embiid informing the Warriors’ forward that he planned on “kicking his @##”. The question is will Simmons be ready for the two-time champion’s pugnacity. Embiid comments and provided motivation aside, this contest sets up perfect for the maestro skill-set of the 76ers’ rookie.
The Warriors lead the league in team assists per game at 31 and points per game at 119, which is to be expected. Golden State creates space and scoring opportunities through superior ball movement and a frenetic pace. What was not expected is the 76ers holding court at second in team assists per game at 29.5 and jumping from 25th in points per game last season to 11th in points per game this season. We should all refer to that dramatic shift as the “Ben-efactor” of having one Mr. Simmons. The rookie is second in the league in passes made per game at 73.0 and has been exceptional in keeping the ball moving. This has created more open looks and easier baskets for this group of Sixers.
The upcoming Warriors game will provide little contrast to the style of play the Australian has already shined in. Making matters more compelling, Saturday’s game will feature four of the top ten “catch-and-shoot” performers in Klay Thompson (1st), Robert Covington (2nd), Dario Saric (4th) and Kevin Durant (7th). Captain Obvious says there will be situations that Simmons can certainly take full advantage of.
It is the game within the game that will be the litmus test. When the organization drafted the 6’10 phenom the most prevalent question asked was “does he have the motor?” 11 games into Ben’s first NBA season it is the franchise guard’s talent that has well exceeded all expectations. Meanwhile, the presumed lack of motor or intensity questions have gone untested, until now.
Green is a master at making players uncomfortable and confrontational. The Michigan State alum approaches each battle with a personal vendetta that only a victory can rectify. Players fitting the mold of the prized rookie have felt Draymond’s wrath the most. So how Ben responds will be almost as important, if not more important, than how Philadelphia as a whole responds.
Toughness is not learned or developed it is inherited and displayed albeit it in different forms. It may not be necessary to yell like the Warriors’ forward, but somehow the guard must be heard and felt. The loudest bark is rarely followed by the hardest bite. Yet, as Golden State rides a five game winning streak and enjoy the spoils of championship victories it is difficult to imagine this group doing either without the bark AND bite of one Mr. Green. Therefore, the young and talented Simmons cannot back down or let the game come to him.
The first year sensation has all the tangible tools to build an immaculate Hall-of-Fame resume, but does the guard have the intangible tools to build a Hall-of-Fame team. Saturday will present the first of many forthcoming circumstances where that question can be answered.