For whatever reason, the basketball gods have blessed us with some captivating developments over the past week. Blake Griffin was traded to the Pistons, James Harden had a 60 point triple double and Joakim Noah is one irritation away from Latrell Sprewell-ing his coach. Fans love developments like these because of the ripples they may send league wide, but if a player catches the injury bug and just sits for 6-8 weeks, it’s no fun for anybody. So when DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Love get hurt, the only thing that might change is the size of the dumpster fire that is the Cleveland Cavaliers. A consequence from his injury, however, is that Goran Dragic and Paul George replaced them in the All-Star game. George has undoubtedly been having a fine season on both ends of the floor and it’s nice to see the Heat get an All-Star, but there were others more deserving. More specifically, a young bull out of Philadelphia and offensive juggernaut packaged into a mini bundle of buckets from the city of angels. Everyone raise your glass, this one’s for Ben Simmons and Lou Williams.
Solely from the eye test, Simmons dominates the game in a fashion only comparable to LeBron. His vision is exquisite, his handle deft, and he navigates the hardwood like a queen on a chessboard. Averaging 7.7 rebounds per game, he’s a danger to start a fast break every play. His on/off court statistics and PER are +2.9 and 18.4 respectively, but his true value can’t be put into a number. As he plays unselfishly so do others, boosting the 76ers to 3rd in the NBA in team assists. The 76ers also play with the fourth highest pace in the league, derived from Simmons’ showtime style of play-sorry Lonzo.
Simmons ability to make his teammates better has elevated Joel Embiid to All-Star starter status; he hits Embiid at his spots perfectly, reminiscent of mid 2000’s Kobe and Shaq. Simmons is the type of player built to play in an all-star game; one could only imagine the no looks, the impossible angles he would find. What’s most impressive about his rookie start is how attuned he is with playing NBA level defense. He’s 12th in the league in deflections per game, 9th in loose balls recovered and has a defensive box plus minus of 2.9. If the all-star game really is going to get competitive this year, Simmons defensive prowess would be well served.
At age 31, Lou Williams has never looked better. Averaging career highs 23.4 PPG and 5.2 APG is impressive, but what’s even more impressive is the fact he’s doing it in his 15th season. Battling a decimated roster and unstable team culture, Williams has carried the Clippers offense to 7th in the league and contending for a playoff spot, doing all of which off the bench.
Williams has been bending defenses to his will this season; he can stretch time and space with his range or suck opponents in before a spectacular finish. What’s most unique, however, is how he’s doing all this on his own. The percentage of two pointers he makes that come via assists is .249%, the third lowest figure of his career. While only 21.6% of his shots are catch and shoots, 46.1% come from pull ups, meaning he’s creating offense by himself. In addition to the volume of scoring he’s also been incredibly efficient, shooting career highs in three point percentage and true shooting percentage. The all-star game already has enough superfreak athletes; Williams could play the role as the little who schools the brutish big men, a la prime Allen Iverson. Williams even has 10 dunks this season, he can throw down if need be. The guy dropped 50 against the Warriors this season, that’s really all that needs to be said.
While Paul George and Goran Dragic are fine replacements for the injured players, seeing the best rookie in the league run the break and an undersized combo guard score bunches seems more appealing. For now, we’ll have to be satisfied with the regular season and the passive aggressive tweets post-snub.