Jonathon Simmons brings to the Orlando Magic a burgeoning talent waiting for his chance to burst through. He also carries a risk that he is up to the task.
But there are few players in the NBA who can play defense like the third-year player. There are many players who can play better offensively. Simmons has cut his teeth defensively and made his name there. In Orlando, the Magic will be asking him to do more, especially on offense.
Simmons promises to be the two-way wing player the Magic have lacked from their shooting guards and small forwards.
Although Evan Fournier is better offensively he does not have the defensive tenacity Simmons possesses. That should have Simmons challenging almost immediately for a role in the starting lineup.
With good reason too. That last image of Simmons was a good one. Simmons showed that tenacity against one of the best offensive players in today’s league in James Harden during the 2017 NBA Playoffs.
Simmons began to ascend to another level in the Playoffs against the Houston Rockets. He scored 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting and dished out four assists in a decisive win in Game Six of the Western Conference Semifinals. Simmons started to grow up right in front of the Spurs.
That was the same game where Harden performed one of the greatest disappearing acts in the history of potential league MVPs. Simmons guarded Harden throughout that Spurs win.
Few critics will say Simmons is incapable of defending at a high level, which is one of the reasons Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had great faith in his capabilities when on the floor.
If the league learned anything about Simmons this postseason it learned Simmons can perform at a high level defensively. Even around mediocre talent as he did after Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker went down with injuries in the Playoffs. Although the Spurs still had LaMarcus Aldridge on the roster, Aldridge seemed to turn into a shell of himself during the series. Simmons is the one who stepped up.
That series showed the Magic that Simmons is the type of player who can handle a leadership role if he has sub par talent as his supporting cast. Simmons can shine with his grit and effort, especially on defense.
This might be why many fans believe Simmons can be a breakout player for the Magic this season.
As good as Simmons was on defense, that Playoff run did not prove Simmons could carry the load like LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook or Kawhi Leonard. Simmons is not about to become the Magic’s best player and a superstar in waiting.
But that run showed he has potential few people knew about.
Simmons is the kind of player who thrives on playing great defense. He learned from arguably the best wing defender in the league backing up Leonard in one of the league’s best defensive systems. And now he seems to be thirsty for more responsibility and leadership considering he signed with the Magic.
Although Simmons came off the bench for a championship contender in San Antonio, he did not sign with Orlando to be a role player. He wants an added responsibility and role.
He said during his introductory meeting with the Orlando media he felt constrained in San Antonio. Leaving the Spurs might be the best way to unleash his talent. But he will still carry those lessons from the Spurs with him.
Simmons might have the ceiling of a third- or fourth-best player on a championship-level team. But this guy is looking to make a statement to the NBA he is truly a starter in today’s league.
And he should start for a team like Orlando.
The Magic are desperately looking for leadership at small forward, a position coach Frank Vogel had issues filling last season. Vogel had a problem finding the right player to fit in his scheme at small forward last year placing Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green, Evan Fournier, Mario Hezonja, Terrence Ross and sometimes C.J. Watson at the position.
This year should be different with Simmons now on the roster.
Simmons will have his chance to compete for the starting role. At the very least, he will be in the wing rotation with Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross.
Although Simmons is the sixth man for this team, at worst, he still needs to improve on his offensive game and become more consistent of a scoring threat.
Simmons only averaged 12.5 points, 4.1 rebounds and 3.3 assists per 36 minutes in 2017. That is not bad considering he only averaged 17.8 minutes per game.
He is likely to receive more minutes on this Magic squad. The team will expect him to produce more after he gets more of an opportunity to show his skills for a longer period of time. There is a question whether his production will increase along with his minutes.
First, Simmons will need to improve his shot selection and offensive efficiency. Simmons shot 29.4 percent from beyond the arc and 42 percent from the field.
He shot better in the Playoffs last year but will not have the luxury to lean on a perennial All-Star like Leonard to mask his terrible shooting percentages. He will not have the ease of the Spurs’ offense to create good opportunities for him.
The good news is Simmons believes the Magic’s offense fits his skills better. He said he felt constrained in San Antonio’s half-court offense. Going to a more wide-open, fast-breaking offense like the Magic want to run might unleash more offensive efficiency.
There will be moments where Simmons is the best player on the floor for the Magic. And Simmons has had games where he broke out and led his team in scoring. The Magic are banking on all that.
If he can continue to build on his playoff run last year, where he was arguably the second best player on the Spurs, then the Magic may have a shot at making the Playoffs as a low seed in a weak Eastern Conference. Simmons is that kind of fighter. But a lot of things have to go right this year.
Potentially being the best player on a NBA team means carrying a lot of responsibility. If Simmons can handle the pressure that comes with that responsibility, the Magic may be able to create a Playoff berth.
Simmons individually seems like he is ready to break out and make a name for himself outside the Spurs. But there is risk there too. The Spurs tend to hide a player’s flaws and the Magic are not a perfectly composed team.
It adds to the excitement and risk of signing Simmons and could help determine what role he plays. And how far the Magic go with him.