Simmons in Wonderland: How Jonathan Simmons is making it work in Orlando
Written By William Richardson Jr.
One of the biggest surprises of the season so far has to be the Orlando Magic sitting at six wins and three losses, good enough for third (!!!) in the Eastern Conference, and holders of the fifth-best record in the league.
If you had this at the beginning of the season, you’re a liar. Nobody had this coming.
But if you had told me that Jonathon Simmons would be one of the catalysts for this team, I definitely would have believed you. When players make that jump from unknown bench player to role player to a guy that is getting paid to change a franchise as a major player, they tend to be placed under a microscope. Questions get asked and the pressure can make or break careers (i.e. Jeremy Lin, Luol Deng, Danilo Gallinari, etc…).
So when Simmons signed a three-year, $18 million contract over the summer, fans knew this would be his time to step out of Kawhi Leonard’s shadow with the Spurs and start to build his own path. Up to now, he’s looking like a steal for the money they paid him. Though his stats don’t jump off the page, his season averages of 14.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 2.1 assists are excellent for a player that went undrafted in 2012 and made his way up the D-League to get to where he is now.
Simmons’ impact is on the defensive side of the ball, where he’s able to lock down defenders from the perimeter and force offensive players to take bad shots or to pass the ball to another option. When Kawhi went down last year, he was able to step into the shooting guard and the small forward position and lock down the opposing team’s best players. That’s a big deal because if defense wins championships, then the ability to have a young player step into the lineup and play great defense is something all teams strive to have.
It’s the reason why Andre Roberson continues to stay employed despite his broken free throw shot. It’s the reason why Tony Allen, Patrick Beverly, and players of that cloth can continue to have success in the league when their offensive skills may not be the best.
With the Magic, the problem with that team just comes down to inexperience. They’re pretty young (the average Magic player is 25 years old, just under the league average of 26), which makes sense considering they’re in the NBA Lottery almost every year and their three youngest players are 20 (Jonathan Isaac) and 22 (Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja). But where they lack in inexperience, players like Simmons coming from a culture like the one there in San Antonio help make a massive difference between winning and losing. The Magic are 4th in the league in scoring with 111 points per game and are 4th in terms of pace of play but rank in the middle of the league in terms of opponent points per game.
Insert Simmons. His flexibility as a swingman allows him to guard anyone from Dion Waiters in Miami, to Kevin Durant to John Wall. What makes Simmons so valuable is that you need players that can stop people from scoring and turn those possessions into points on the other end. Golden State is insanely successful not just because Klay Thompson, Steph Curry, or KD can score at any time; they’re also fortunate because Steph and Draymond Green can affect the other team’s offense.
So on the Magic, Simmons isn’t expected to be the team’s best defender (that’s Bismack Biyombo’s job), but a player that is defense-oriented, is only 28, and hasn’t hit his prime yet, makes for a player that will always have a job in the league. And under coach Frank Vogel, a coach that made Roy Hibbert look like a Defensive Player of The Year candidate, Simmons’ ceiling is very high.