Why Ben Simmons is a legitimate DPOY candidate

Published April 22, 2021, 8:00 AMRenee Ticzon

If you’ve been watching the 76ers, it will come as no surprise that Ben Simmons is a top contender for Defensive Player of the Year.

Ben Simmons continues to make a strong case for this season’s Defensive Player of the Year award. He has been outspoken about it and believes he deserves the accolade, and it isn’t without reason.

The Philadelphia 76ers have the second best defense in the NBA just behind the Los Angeles Lakers. While a lot of factors go into their success, Simmons’ aggressive nature on the defensive end makes the 76ers’ all the more effective on that side of the court.

Simmons has a similar defensive rating as last season’s DPOY award winner Giannis Antetokounmpo, and his defensive stats are certainly one of the best in the league with 6.0 defensive rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 0.6 blocks. Simply put, Simmons is a big part of Philly’s defense and one of the main reasons why the Sixers are a title contender this season.

At 6-foot-11, 240 pounds with a 7-foot wingspan, Simmons is not just athletic, he is also versatile. Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers often brags about Simmons’ ability to guard the best player of any team regardless of their position.

“Ben is a lock to me. He just – he guards every position. And he makes such a difference. And not just at the rim. It’s everywhere. He literally at times swallows players. And I’ve not seen that,” Rivers said.

And it’s not only the words of a proud and biased head coach either. Kendrick Perkins also said the 24-year-old is “hands down” the Defensive Player of the Year: “We all know that he can guard one through five.”

However, statistics often overshadow the bigger picture. Simmons admits he finds joy in making an incredible defensive play the same way shooters feel when they take good shots.

“I take pride in playing defense. If we get stops and give guys a harder time doing their job, then you know we're gonna be able to go further,” Simmons said in an interview with ESPN.

His energy on defense makes up for his subpar offensive averages. In fact, several analysts agree that Simmons’ defense has been his most valuable contribution in helping the 76ers get to where they are. Not his shooting, not his playmaking, but his defense.

This is extremely rare considering the way the game is being played. While the NBA has focused on protecting players and favoring the offense, Simmons has made sure he’s giving his opponents a tough time every single night.

In fact, Simmons is one of the few players that has a highlight reel purely made up of defensive plays. He is so unique that even the league has to make compilations of how good he is at shutting guys down.

However, the race for the DPOY award is in a strange situation this year — it is not as talked about as the MVP race and the winner isn’t as clear cut as the Sixth Man of the Year. 

For example, one of Simmons’ competitors in the race is his current teammate, Joel Embiid, who is one of those players that have said time and time again that he deserves the award, basically going against Simmons.

Another candidate for the award is Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert. The 7’1” center, who is a two-time DPOY, is at the core of his team’s defense. Several analysts have noted that while Simmons operates within the 76ers defense and is the best player at it, Gobert IS the Jazz defense. He does not have an Embiid who will back him up, nor does he have a lot of teammates who play defense the way he does.

Even if there is a mutual respect between the two, Simmons firmly believes that the award is his to lose.

"Obviously, there's a lot of respect for Rudy. I know what he's capable of. I know he's great down there in the paint, but he's not guarding everybody and that's just what it is. He guarded me in Utah, I had 42 and apparently I'm not a scorer. It is what it is, but I have a lot of respect for him. At the same time, I think it's mine this year,” he said.