The Philadelphia 76ers' season is only 14 games old, so there really shouldn't be any reason to get too excited. Or is there?
For starters, the 8-6 Sixers look primed for their first winning record in years. But more importantly, they may have found something truly special in the process.
In 2016, Philadelphia drafted a point guard in a power forward's body when it selected Ben Simmons first overall. He missed all of last season due to injury, but the league is now getting a glimpse of the engine who's helping drive the franchise's turnaround from laughingstock to playoff contender. Here's a closer look:
Historically great (so far)
Throughout NBA history, only two previous rookies averaged at least seven rebounds and seven assists per game, putting Simmons in some elite company:
|Player||Points Per Game||Rebounds Per Game||Assists Per Game|
Using more relevant metrics for 2017, Simmons' dominance and awareness on the floor is evidenced by his advanced statistics. Only two other players this season have a rebound rate over 10 percent and an assist rate over 30 percent (minimum 100 minutes played):
If Simmons continues averaging nine rebounds and seven assists per game with a 30 percent assist rate and a 10 percent rebound rate, he'll be the first rookie in history to do so - and just the fourth player of all time (Grant Hill, Westbrook, Johnson).
Better defender than expected
One of the pre-draft concerns about Simmons was his supposed lazy defense. He struggled to seem motivated on that end of the floor - or in general - during his one-year tenure at Louisiana State University.
However, he's quickly quieted those doubts at the NBA level. The 76ers' defensive rating is 2.7 points worse when Simmons is off the floor, and their overall net rating is 13 points better when he plays.
Simmons has very active hands, which he's used to break up passing lanes and average 1.9 steals per game. He's also proving to be a decent rim-protector, with nearly a block per game (0.8), and has shown awareness as a help defender.
For perspective, DeMarcus Cousins is the only other player averaging more than 0.7 blocks and over 1.7 steals per game this season.
(Photo courtesy: Action Images)
Potentially dominant roster
It's fair to say the great start from Simmons has had something to do with teammate Joel Embiid. There's a lot invested in Simmons and Embiid, and through the first 12 games they've played together, things are becoming exceedingly promising.
If we pretend the Golden State Warriors don't exist for a second, the Simmons-Embiid combo would have the 10th-best net rating in the league. In fact, Embiid's so good that of the top 11 two-man combinations in defensive rating (minimum 100 minutes played together), he's on the list three times, ranking 11th overall when he's alongside Simmons.
The scary thing about playing a near-7-foot point guard next to a dominating force in the middle is the versatility it affords lineups. Plugging in the two young stars next to three shooters (J.J. Redick, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington) has tortured opposing teams.
In 83 minutes played, that lineup has a league-leading net rating of 33.7. To compare, the second-highest rating is 23.1. And despite the tiny sample size, it's been borderline impossible to score against that group, which has a defensive rating of 86.3 while still managing a pace of 104.9.
Simmons may not be the best player on Philadelphia's roster right now. But in the midst of a historic run, he looks well on his way to posting the most impressive rookie season in NBA history.