The Philadelphia 76ers deploy arguably the most dominant yet criminally underrated defensive backcourt in basketball.
Throughout the duration of the current NBA season, both Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle have been deprived of national recognition for their suffocating defense. Individually, the two boast incredible advanced statistics that support their defensive prowess. Together, both of them form a dangerously overpowering tandem that forces the opposition to work harder than normal to initiate offense.
The benefit of deploying a 6-foot-10 athlete that travels the 12th most miles per game (2.58) is that he can defend any position on the floor.
More specifically, Simmons freakishly possesses a wingspan measured of upwards 7’0″, which is unmatched atop and around the perimeter. Simmons’ long strides and bursts of lateral quickness frequently prevent opposing guards from creating windows of opportunities around the perimeter.
Within the perimeter, Simmons’ defensive versatility allows him a unique ability to switch onto any position. In Brett Brown’s near-decade tenure with Philadelphia, the pick and roll has riddled the Sixers because of their defensive scheme. Brown seemingly demands his defense switch on or go under every screen, which is a common practice present day, but becomes maddening.
In fact, Philadelphia has been attacked by opposing pick and roll ball handlers 26 possessions/game (4th-most in the NBA) and allow the 6th-most points/game (21.4) and 3rd-most field goal attempts/game there (20.9) this season. Since 2015, the inception of pick and roll statistics tracking, Philadelphia has been one of seven of the worst teams against opposing pick and roll ball handlers every season.
In spite of Philadelphia’s defensive scheme, Simmons is usually forced to go underneath screens or switch onto forwards-centers. Because of this, opposing guards are cognizant of the fact that the most able-bodied defender on the floor can not contest their shot, and henceforth, they pull the trigger.
Last season, Pick and Roll Roll Men attacked Philadelphia with 5.8% frequency/game, the 7th-lowest in the NBA.
In 2017, Philadelphia allowed roll men to score the 4th-fewest points/game (6.6) league-wide. Through 47 games this season, Philadelphia is allowing the 4th-least points per possession to opposing roll men.
Having said that, opposing guards can really only attack Philadelphia by way of the pick and roll, which displaces Simmons and forces him onto differnt positions. When Philadelphia can limit opposing pick and rolls, Simmons is one of, if not the, most invaluable defender in the NBA. Paired with Matisse Thybulle, a 6-foot-5 defensive-minded guard, the two are menacing on that end of the floor.
Thybulle, contrary to Philadelphia’s defensive scheme, relentlessly works to hedge screens.
His range and recovery provide immense aid against the pick and roll, juxtaposed by his highlight reel of defensive close-outs. Rare is an understatement when describing Thybulle, because the 22-year-old rookie has already established himself as one of the league’s most impressive perimeter defenders. Opponents are shooting only 38.6% from the field against Thybulle (9th-Best/NBA) and just 28.2% on three-point tries (8th-Best/NBA).
In 2019-20, Simmons has been tasked with defending the likes of Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, Pascal Siakam, Bradley Beal, LeBron James, Chris Paul, and more.
He has defended Butler, Tatum, Beal, and Siakam for at least 50 possessions each, where the four of them have combined for 30.3% from the field (17/56). Individually, Simmons has held Butler (25.0%), Tatum (27.3%), Siakam (26.3%), Jrue Holiday (14.3%), and LeBron James (22.2%) to less than 30.0% shooting from the field.
More interestingly, Butler, Siakam, Beal, James, and Kyrie Irving are a combined (yes, combined) 13.0% (3/23) from beyond the arc against Simmons. Even last season, James Harden, Tatum, Irving, James, Trae Young, and Kemba Walker were a combined 0/15 when guarded by Simmons.
LeBron James guarded by Ben Simmons:— Brock Landes (@LandesBrock) January 26, 2020
‣ 26 Possessions
‣ 5 Points
‣ 22.2% FG (2-9)
‣ 16.7% 3P (1-6)
‣ 2 Turnovers
Simmons has held Butler, Tatum, Siakam, Irving, James to under 28.0% from the field.
Combined 27.8% from 3P (minus Tatum).
Via @nbastats @76ersTPL
Against Simmons, Luka Doncic turned the ball over four times, compared to just 1 assist. Additionally, Damian Lillard and Donnovan Mitchell both turned the basketball over twice with no assists when defended by Simmons this season.
Thybulle, an equally competent defender around the perimeter, limited Tatum, Young, Doncic, Walker, and Kyle Lowry to just 11.7% from deep (2/17).
There are 12 players in the NBA that have amassed at least 6.0 Defensive Win Shares this season; the Sixers own 3 and Simmons is one of them.
Over the previous five games played though, Simmons and Thybulle have the most Defensive Win Shares in the NBA. Over that five game span, Simmons owns the 9th best defensive rating in the NBA and Thybulle’s is good for 4th best. Better yet, Simmons’ 87.1 defensive rating in the 4th Quarter is 2nd best in the NBA, followed by Thybulle’s 90.1, which ranks 4th best. Oh, and, Thybulle swiped the basketball away from an opponent 14 times during those five games, tied with Simmons for the most steals in the NBA.
Defensively, Philadelphia is hitting their stride of late thanks to Simmons and Thybulle.
The two are actively clogging passing lanes, deflecting passes, stealing the basketball and forcing turnovers. In the month of January, Philadelphia owns the 2nd best Defensive Rating while forcing the 3rd highest opponent turnover percentage and surrendering the 3rd least opponent points in the paint. Come playoff time, Simmons and Thybulle will potentially be the most irritating duo to try to operate on. Until then, the national media can avoid this dialogue all they want; it’s only fuel to the fire in Philadelphia.