The rookie wall is a common proverbial talking point in sports, but so far, Ben Simmons has managed to run through it, leap over it, dig under it, drive around it, whatever phrase you’d like to use.
With 17 games remaining on the 76ers’ regular season schedule, the point man appears poised to close out his debut campaign in strong form, which was exactly how he started it.
Statistically, Simmons has steadily ranked top of class among his first-year peers, and even among a few established All-Stars, MVPs, and champions as well (see paint scoring, assists, steals, double-doubles, and triple-doubles).
Physically, the Aussie has looked like he belongs since day one, competing with a high degree of confidence that belies his relative lack of professional experience.
Make any mention of a rookie wall to Simmons, and a swift “no” typically follows, as in, “no,” he hasn’t encountered one yet. By the sounds of it, he doesn’t plan to, either.
Simmons has essentially been immersed in basketball since his infancy. The sport is a deep part of his bloodline, and his passion for the game shows in his intense, determined style of play.
“I love what I do, so I’m going to come out and play hard every time I step on the floor,” said Simmons, who this season is averaging 16.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 7.6 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.
He’s second on the rookie charts in scoring, and first in rebounds, assists, steals, and, according to stats.nba.com, player efficiency.
“I don’t think there’s a wall,” Simmons said. “I wake up every morning, and love what I do.”
Brett Brown, too, has been around hoops his whole life, and the NBA specifically for almost two decades now. He’s coached and coached against the current generation of stars since their earliest days in the league, and can recognize something different when he sees it.
That Simmons has successfully circumnavigated any type of rookie wall has indeed struck the Sixers head coach as impressively unusual.
“I’ll go to the simplest answer, that he’s an incredible athlete,” Brown said, when asked recently for a theory on how Simmons has been able to consistently impact the Sixers on such a positive, productive level.
“He really is an incredible athlete. To date, he plays decent quantity of minutes, and feels good.”
Of the members of this year’s rookie class, no player has logged more minutes than Simmons, both in terms of total quantity (2,216), or on average (34.6). His usage percentage of 22.7 (a stat that accounts for the percentage of plays a player uses while on the court) is fourth among rookies who have appeared in at least 55 games.
If there’s been any toll taken, Simmons hasn’t shown it, said Brown.
“Physically, I’ve been taking care of my body,” said Simmons, a three-time KIA NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month recipient. “Mentally, I get to wake up and play ball. I love it.”
Throughout a year during which Simmons has only missed one game, his mindset has been to “never let the highs get too high, and the lows get too low.”
“Finding that even ground has helped me a lot this season,” he said.
Nonetheless, Simmons said that despite getting a front-row seat to the gruelling pace of an NBA season last year while rehabbing his right foot injury, nothing could have prepared him for the demands of the past six and half months.
He credits the bolstered cast of veterans on the Sixers’ roster for providing him guidance.
“I’m never going to complain about playing an NBA game,” said Simmons. “It’s one of those things where I sat out a whole year, and I know what it feels like to not play.”
That he’s been there – still fresh and dominant – just about every step of the way this season has been to his own benefit, and certainly that of the Sixers as well.
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