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Ben Simmons confuses himself on a career night

Winston Churchill once said of Russia: “It is a riddle that is wrapped up in a riddle within a riddle.” If there is an NBA that matches this quote, it does Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons.

There may be no more confusing player in the NBA than Simmons. He is the size and strength of a center but plays with the speed and vision of a point guard. He can run and guard all five positions on the pitch in a way that nobody else in the league can.

At the same time he does not shoot 3-pointers – or often even jump shots in the middle range. And for all the things he does to win, his offensive fit has become an endless source of debate in Philadelphia and beyond – especially when he plays alongside the Sixers Star Center Joel Embiid.

A typical example: on Monday evening with Embiid a late scratch due to back narrowingSimmons lined up in the middle for the Sixers Utah Jazz, the team with the best record in the NBA.

So what did Simmons do? Have the best game of his career by hitting a career high of 42 points with 9 rebounds and 12 assists – all without taking a single shot out of color.

Ultimately, jazz prevailed beat the Sixers 134-123 to claim 19th victory in their last 20 games.

The story, however, was that Simmons played with the kind of aggression that Sixers fans rarely see.

“I mean, if you put it that way, probably not,” Simmons said with a smile when asked if he had ever been this aggressively offensive in his NBA career.

“There are nights when I feel dominant but it might not look like a 40-point game. I could have a triple-double and we could win at 20, whatever the case. It could be in be the defense. ” [But] Yes, I definitely had to fill the gap with Joel. “

Simmons is right. His game is so often about doing things that don’t appear in the boxing standings, be it the way he can ban elite scorers on the other teams or put his teammates up for wide-open 3-pointers .

But the reason the Monday performance was so revealing is because, despite his amazing physical ability, Simmons seldom imposes his will on the game like he did against Jazz, especially in the first quarter. When Philadelphia took the lead 42:35, Simmons finished the quarter with 19 points and four assists, scoring or creating 12 of Philadelphia’s 16 baskets.

In his first 24 games that season, Simmons had scored three times as many points in a full game. On Monday night he did it for the first 12 minutes – while playing against the Jazz Center Rudy Gobert and sometimes by scoring right over the best defensive player in the league.

“We expected that after Joel scratched, we would try to create a line-up where Gobert would protect Ben,” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers. “That happened, and the key for us was to stop and take it to Ben and get it to the ground.

“It just felt like no one was staying with him, especially not in a center. So I thought Ben handled this very well.”

Monday’s defeat was the third straight defeat for Philadelphia, which is still at the forefront of the Eastern Conference thanks to recent fights from other competitors. But in those three losses, Simmons has started to look more aggressively aggressive. While this was clearly the case in Salt Lake City, he scored 23 points in Thursday’s loss Portland Trail Blazer – his previous season high – and followed with 18 points in Saturday’s defeat at the Phoenix Suns.

Simmons had only scored 18 points in one game twice throughout the season before the Portland game. Now he has done this in three consecutive steps.

And according to Simmons, this trend is no accident.

“To be honest, I’ve been working on my mentality, my mentality [game]A lot in the last few weeks, “said Simmons.” I think my mindset … it’s not easy to do that, change the way you play, or change certain things in the game that certain people take for granted.

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Ben Simmons flushes a heavy traffic jam as part of his career-top 19 points in the opening quarter.

“I feel like I’m going to find out. Obviously my score has been a lot higher in the last five or six games. As long as I can do that and stay locked up and keep working on my mind.” [game]I find it scary. “

Over the past few seasons, Simmon’s game has been under endless scrutiny – including the lack of a jump shot or the times he’ll disappear into Philadelphia’s offensive.

All the more puzzling are nights like Monday when Simmons was the best player on the floor. Why, if he can do this one evening, can’t he do it more regularly? His previous trainer, Brett Brown, openly asked him to shoot 3-pointers. And he did – about once a month. Rivers have gone the other way.

The obvious question about Monday’s performance – and Embiid’s absence – is whether Simmons can produce like that when playing alongside the best center-back in the league. Forward according to Philly Tobias HarrisSimmons did that because the Sixers needed him.

“Ben is a guy, he rates the game pretty well as he plays and you could see it right away at the start of the game: he knew he could get past these guys at his speed. And we just started, different paths to find to get him involved, “said Harris.

“I saw him working on some things and that was in the mail using his body down there [against players who] they are probably not as busy as he is, shooting over them. It’s just an evolution of his game that comes together game after game, and he only had that attitude today. “

“He wanted to do everything he could to help us win tonight,” said Harris. “And it was more than anything else.”

In order for the Sixers to be a championship-level team, they need the version of Simmons that showed up against the Jazz to be there when he plays alongside Embiid. Before Monday night, however, it was unclear whether Simmons would be able to give this type of performance.

After doing this, the question shifts to when – or if – he will do it again. So it’s about the ultimate puzzle of the NBA.

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