Philadelphia - Ben Simmons finished one assist shy of recording his second triple-double of the season as the Philadelphia 76ers recorded their first home win of the season over the Atlanta Hawks, 119-109.
"It's an impressive stat line but at the end of the day, I'd rather have a win," Simmons said after he finished with 19 points, 13 rebounds and 9 assists. "A win and a triple-double? That'd pretty nice, but that's on me. I made a few mistakes."
The mistakes that Simmons referenced were his four turnovers, but after the week he has had -- averaging 20 points, 9 rebounds and 9 assists in his last five games, resulting in three straight Sixers wins - it's easy to forgive them as part of the Australian's learning curve. He's still a threat that opposition coaches have to take into account.
"We really tried to make him play out the paint [and] play from the perimeter - which is easier said than done," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "You want to make him play from the perimeter, stay away from the passing lanes, but he's a great young player. I'm impressed."
We have just a small sample size, but rival teams, having seen what Simmons can do, have already started to adjust their defensive schemes to try to slow him down. Despite his inexperience, Simmons has already faced a number of different coverages.
"I think they try to switch it up a lot," Simmons said. "I don't think there's been one game where it's been very consistent, the way they've played me defensively, but they're throwing a lot of different things at me, different players, different coverages. I think I'm still seeing a lot more coverages to go."
Prior to the season, the scouting report on Simmons was to sag off him defensively as the belief was that his jump shot was not NBA-ready. Typically, a team will go under on a ball screen and dare Simmons to shoot either a long two, or a three-point shot, but, for the most part, he has been hitting his shots.
Through the first seven games Simmons was shooting the ball at a 53.5 percent clip from the field; even though he is yet to connect on a bucket from behind the arc, his shooting has not negatively affected the team. On Monday against Houston, Simmons hit a number of shots from about 16-feet, and that's something that coach Brett Brown attributes to "massive man hours" in the gym honing his skills.
"I see that as a direct reflection of his confidence more than the fact he made them," Brown said. "Let's start with [the fact that] he shot them. He actually looked to shoot them. And they went in. That's an example of the work that we've put in.
"If he can do that, and I think he will [do it] sooner than everyone else does, then there's another layer of how can people defend him? That can change people's attitude in how they guard him."
Teammate J.J. Redick believes Simmons' unique skill set means teams are yet to fully figure out the best approach to slowing him down.
"It's amazing to me how many teams are going over his ball screens," Redick told ESPN. "It's been shocking to me. They haven't made that adjustment yet, and he's going to continue to punish them if they play it that way. The great thing about Ben is that he's smart enough to read when they will change it up - and they will change it up at some point, but they haven't yet."
What's even more impressive is that Simmons has shown a maturity on-court that belies his 21-years. Whether it's wing players or smaller guards defending him -- pressuring him, sagging off him, whatever opposition teams throw at him -- Simmons remains unfazed, preferring to gravitate to a more cerebral game, reading what the defense is going to do.
NBA Hall-of-Famer Dominique Wilkins believes that Simmons' ability to read plays on the court is the hallmark of a great player.
"You rarely ever see a guy at his age -- at the beginning of his career -- with that type of natural feel for the game," Wilkins told ESPN. "They try to keep him out the paint and try to make him a jump-shooter, but he finds a way to be effective. He's going through that learning process now, but he's learning very quickly. He's special."
The scary thing is that Simmons, as well as he has been playing, feels he hasn't even scratched the surface.
"There's a lot more. There's way more," Simmons said post-game. "I gotta keep working hard and stay in the gym, but I think in a few years, it's gonna be fun."