January 31, 2019
Passed over during his tremendous rookie season, the wait for Ben Simmons is over. Philadelphia's second-year phenom has been named to his first All-Star team, and will join Joel Embiid in representing the Sixers during the midseason event.
Simmons, who was already slated for an appearance in the NBA's Rising Stars game, was a no-doubter selection to the reserves, having narrowly missed out on starting the game alongside Embiid. After putting up excellent numbers across the board in year one, Simmons has stepped it up in year two, averaging more points and more rebounds per game while maintaining his high-level playmaking and improving his efficiency from the field.
The Sixers have counted on him more and more on the defensive end this season, with Robert Covington's departure forcing Simmons to take on tougher (or at least more varied) defensive assignments depending on the night's matchup. On a team devoid of defensive pieces, Simmons has been one of the few defensive stalwarts on a team that ranks just outside the top-10 in defense for the season.
For the viewing public, this should be welcome news for just about everybody. The All-Star Game is an up-tempo, spread-out affair that suits Simmons' strengths wonderfully, and putting a passer of his caliber on the floor will most likely lead to some high-flying dunks for his teammates.
(And don't be surprised if we see his mentor, LeBron James, select him for his team, so we can all wonder what could have been.)
Elsewhere, another Sixers' player received bad news on Thursday night, as Jimmy Butler will miss out on the All-Star Game (barring an injury selection) for the first time since the 2013-14 season. This probably shouldn't come as a huge surprise to anyone who has kept an eye on Butler's year.
After missing time early in the season in the middle of a tug-of-war with Timberwolves management, Butler kicked up a bit of trouble in late December with the Sixers, putting his reputation as a teammate in the spotlight once again. While Butler has been a productive and impactful player in Philadelphia, members of the coaching fraternity obviously frowned upon Butler's history and decided not to reward him for it.
Whether or not he makes All-Star appearances is of little consequence for the Sixers, who are more concerned with how much better he makes them in the playoffs and moving forward as an organization. Butler's numbers are down a touch from prior averages, but that's largely a function of role and usage, with his minutes at the lowest they've been since he was a second-year player in Chicago.
Knowing Butler's personality, this could wind up being a blessing for Philadelphia, who could get an extra motivated Butler for their playoff push. With the free agent to be in a contract year, there's no doubt he wants to prove to the league (and of course to the Sixers) he still belongs in the elite tier of players around the league.
Now, we all wait to see who gets taken in the All-Star draft next Thursday. Bring your own popcorn.
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