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76ers' Doc Rivers Praises 'Terrific' Ben Simmons: 'Instincts Are Unbelievable'

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistDecember 27, 2020

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers shouts during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Two games into his Philadelphia 76ers tenure, Doc Rivers is relishing the chance to coach Ben Simmons.

"I thought, defensively, he was terrific," Rivers said of Simmons after a 109-89 win over the New York Knicks on Saturday, per The Athletic's Derek Bodner. "He used his size, he used his length. His instincts are unbelievable, something I didn't know until now, coaching him. I thought he was terrific tonight."

Simmons' defense has rarely been in doubt. He's averaging 1.7 steals and 0.8 blocks over his career, while his 12.0 defensive win shares are tied for fifth-best in the league since 2017-18, per Basketball Reference. The 24-year-old earned his first All-Defensive nod in 2019-20.

The bigger question is whether Simmons' offensive arsenal expands beyond what he has shown so far. According to Basketball Reference, roughly 87 percent of his shots have come within 10 feet of the basket.

Yaron Weitzman reported for B/R in August former head coach Brett Brown had grown frustrated with Simmons' inability to extend his range.

Speaking with reporters in October, Rivers didn't wade into the conversation too much, and he told ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth earlier this month he couldn't "care less about Ben's shooting." He elaborated on his position during an appearance on First Take, explaining how he's more concerned about his team's overall output and not necessarily about who's doing the scoring.

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Perhaps Rivers' faith in Simmons will be repaid in the form of a deep postseason run.

The problem with the playoffs is opposing coaches have more time to zero in on the flaws of star players. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the two-time reigning MVP, and even he couldn't escape scrutiny after the Milwaukee Bucks fell to the Miami Heat in the conference semifinals last year.

As great as Simmons may be as a defender and playmaker, he possesses a clear weakness in his game. And that will continue to hover around the Sixers until they show they can win in spite of it or the two-time All-Star discovers a long-range jumper.

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