By Eduardo Monk Jr
Going into this season, even casual NBA fans were convinced LSU product Ben Simmons to be at least a solid contributor on a Sixers team smack dab in the middle of a stark rebuild. Coming off a lost season due to a foot injury combined with a potentially historic draft led many to pencil him in as an afterthought in the Rookie of the Year conversation.
But about a month into the season, he has decimated the league en route to a stat line that only five other players in NBA history have accomplished. And only one of those players (Oscar Robertson) pulled this off as a rookie. Armed with court vision better than most point guard, wicked athleticism, and a near seven-foot frame, he is a prototypical point forward, something that has borderline revolutionized the game in today’s league.
For those playing at home, a point forward is a player who can run the offense with court vision, ball handling and passing prowess like a point guard but has the size and strength of forward, allowing him to body opponents in the paint and score inside buckets with ease, a LeBron James if you will. It’s a combination that is virtually unguardable and it’s also the new craze that’s sweeping the league. Instead of having five players all fitting specific roles, having one player that can do basically anything is incredibly valuable.
Point guards are too small and weak to guard point forwards but equal sized big men simply aren’t fast enough to keep up. Unless a team packs a defensive star to the likes of Kawhi Leonard, a point forward is going to run wild on them.
Big men who can ball handle is a dynamic that every team wants in on nowadays. With the pace of the game increasing and the three ball becoming ever so more popular, teams are building their rosters around speedy players with a shot rather than dominant big men of the past. So enter the point forward. Now teams can still have the big man defense and inside game coupled with a skill set that is able to keep up with the pace of the game.
Now the concept of the “point forward” is nothing new. Go back all the way to the 80s with a six-foot nine-point guard named Magic tearing the league up with his court vision and unstoppable size but it wasn’t until 2003 when the emergence of LeBron brought that style back. It has only been recently that the point forward is a progressively more common addition to teams.
The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is finally growing into this mold and is a legit MVP candidate, the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is so talented and diverse they can barely figure out how to use him properly, and the Warriors’ two time NBA champion and a defensive player of the year contender Draymond Green can be considered as a point forward.
But none are to the dominance level Ben Simmons has set in his first fourteen games. The last time we have seen another player being able to do absolutely everything of this caliber was the aforementioned LeBron James. They both share unreal basketball IQ with the size, passing touch, and athleticism to use their intelligence and put it into action. It’s a playstyle teams can straight-up build a championship roster around.
With all of this, barring injury or a massive slump, Simmons should be the unanimous Rookie of the Year, even with the misfortune of being a rookie in a year stacked with Rookie of the Year hopefuls.
The latest first overall pick and teammate Markelle Fultz has barely seen the floor and is out indefinitely with a curious shoulder ailment, Magic Johnson’s very own Lonzo Ball has some already writing him off as a bust with his dreadful shooting and lack of any other skills besides passing, Celtics’ Jayson Tatum has been good but not great and new dark horse Lauri Markkanen has impressed but is trapped on a dismal Bulls roster he hasn’t been able to carry like Simmons.
If he can keep this up over the entire season, he has the potential to be more than just the Rookie of the Year-he has his chances at MVP.
No other player in NBA history has held a stat line of 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.7 assists, .8 blocks and 1.9 steals per game. He is also the focal point of an 8-6 team that lacks their point guard of the future and is still limiting their star center to 25.4 minutes per game. This is LeBron James level stuff and if Simmons can carry his team to high seed, even in the East, to see him as an MVP finalist would not be surprising.
For now, Giannis or the Rocket’s James Harden are still the heavy favorites to bring home the award and considering other MVP contenders like Durant having Curry steal some of his spotlights and vice versa, the LeBron and the Cavaliers are barely keeping their heads above, and Russell Westbrook falling out of the media without his nightly triple-double show opens the door wide open for dark horse candidates.
Why not Ben Simmons?