Los Angeles, California-Before there was Lonzo Ball, there was Ben Simmons. Yeah, remember Simmons? Simmons is the one-time prep and one-year wonder college basketball whiz who had just about everyone praising his every move on the basketball court as Magic Johnson like. Simmons was the Next superstar to take over the NBA.
Taking over the NBA his rookie season would have to wait as a foot injury derailed that possibility. Simmons is now doing this season what people were expecting from him last year. So much hype has centered this young season on Ball, the Los Angeles Lakers rookie, and his impeccable passing skills that the former UCLA star has been a marketing success for the franchise and the league.
Well, judging the way he has played so far in his official rookie campaign, Simmons is Ball 4.0. As he showed against the Los Angeles Clippers, Simmons is the future. If he was suited up in the Purple and Gold, Simmons would be crowned as the Anointed One.
But as it is, Simmons plays for the Philadelphia 76ers, an organization that hasn’t seen any type of glory days since Allen Iverson was dropping his famous crossover moves on the regular. Simmons is just what the doctor ordered for the 76ers. He is the dominant presence who can do it all on the court: pass, score and defend.
The Clippers got a taste of what Simmons and fellow stud Joe Embid can do in their 109-105 defeat to the 76ers at Staples Center. In 37 minutes of action, Simmons converted 9 of 14 field goals into 22 spectacular points and added 12 rebounds as the 76ers outscored the Clippers (5-8) in the first and fourth quarters to notch their seventh win (7-6) of the season.
Embid was equally impressive, scoring a team-high 32 points and totaling 16 rebounds. Looking at the youth of Simmons, Embid, along with Robert Covington (31 points against the Clippers), the 76ers appear to have a bright future. The three immediate dimensions that stand out about the 76ers is that they are long, athletic and play unselfishly.
For much of the inter-conference game, these attributes seemed to bother the Clippers. Outside of the hot shooting of Lou Williams (team-high 31 points) and forward Blake Griffin (29 points, 6 rebounds), the Clippers had only one other player to score in double figures. Being reliant on a couple individuals have been a troubling pattern for the Clippers recently.
As a result, the Clippers are in a funk no NBA team wants to be in. After kicking off the season with four straight wins, the Clippers have seen that bounce in their step flop into uncertainty and indecision basketball. For the last six games, and eight of their last nine contests, the Clippers have failed to break into the win column.
This is not what the Clippers are used to. This isn’t Clippers basketball.
But right now, it is. And right now, it is easy for the critics and boo-birds to start pointing their fingers at the Chris Paul trade as the reason why. That would be too simple. It’s a cheap out. Paul, who was traded to the Houston Rockets at the beginning of the summer, isn’t even on the court right now because of knee issues.
The Clippers are in a rut because they are not playing the way head coach Doc Rivers envisioned. For one, the basketball isn’t moving offensively with the precision that Rivers wants it to. Secondly, the Clippers still have not caught on to the type of defense needed to win ballgames.
It doesn’t help that defensive stopper Patrick Beverly (knee), forward Danilo Gallinari (strained left glute) and guard Milos Teodosic are not on the court because of injuries. The electricity of Simmons and the up and coming 76ers squad exploited these issues plaguing the Clippers.
Even with Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed manning the paint, the 76ers put on a jam session most of the game, throwing down one flush after another that was reminiscent of the Clippers’ “Lob City” days. Those days are long gone. The Clippers are a team now struggling to find its identity now that Paul has left the building.
They are a team trying to play its way out of a losing streak. It won’t get any easier with five straight road games, beginning with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team dealing with its own set of problems. Meanwhile, the rest of the NBA will get to see first-hand what the Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers show is all about.