As a 26-year-old rookie, Jonathon Simmons scored a total of 11 points in the 2016 playoffs. He played just a handful of minutes in a sweep of the Grizzlies, and none against OKC. In his second season in San Antonio, with his minutes creeping up to the high teens, Simmons’ role on the team remained fluid and seemed more dependent on whether Pop wanted to unleash him or inject some Kyle Anderson bullet-time into a game.
It stands to reason that the former D-Leaguer would become one of the more compelling stories of the Spurs’ 2017 playoff run, playing an essential part in what San Antonio was able to accomplish on both ends of the floor against the Rockets and being one of the few players to answer the bell after Kawhi Leonard’s injury versus the Warriors.
Can't say enough about Jonathon Simmons. James Harden shot 1-5 w/6 TO when guarded by him in Game 5 and 6. Simmons +32 with 18 pts tonight.— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) May 12, 2017
To get an idea of Simmons’ elevated play, here are his averages from the regular season and through the playoffs:
- 2016-17 season: 17.9 minutes, 6.2 points, 2.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists
- Versus MEM: 10.9 minutes, 3.6 points, 1.0 rebound, 1.0 assists
- Versus HOU: 23.5 minutes, 13.2 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists
- Versus GSW: 27.5 minutes, 15.3 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists
Now four years removed from his well-documented $150 bet on his basketball-playing future, Simmons appears set for a huge payday, with memories of him locking down James Harden and going at Kevin Durant fresh in the minds of general managers around the league. Are there many players who have undertaken an arc like his before?
At first glance, Simmons has often seemed an odd fit in San Antonio. His defensive instincts took time to hone; his three-point percentage dropped from 38% to 29% last season, and he remains prone to hijacking Spurs-y pass-fests as he tries to create something off the dribble.
But really, it could be the contrasts in his game that enabled his rise through the Spurs’ program. He is in many ways the flip side of the Slowmo coin — a wing that can gobble up space in a hurry with his long, hungry strides, with a rare ability to will his way from the three-point line to the rim. If the Spurs are a jazz outfit, relying on like-minded improvisation to create good-to-great shots, Simmons is its unexpected syncopation, a burst of irregular beats that pushes the harmony in a new direction.
Look at this Danny Green drive-and-kick from last season.
As Simmons’ sizes up the defense, Green instinctively sprints back to his spot behind the three-point line and prepares to call for the ball. The play that many Spurs fans are conditioned to expect Simmons to make is swing the ball to Laprovittola for the hockey assist to an open Green.
Simmons’ development has come in measures, through a better understanding of angles, close-outs and footwork, and learning to play more within the Spurs offense. The transition dunks and chase-down blocks are great, but plays like this in the half-court were equally encouraging, showing his ability to read a defense before letting his natural talents do the rest.
The Vertical’s Bobby Marks did a great job looking at the Spurs’ offseason picture, dedicating a good portion of it to the question of re-signing Simmons, who will likely enter restricted free agency next month. The whole article’s worth a read, but to summarize his contract situation: the Spurs can match any other team’s offer, which can be upwards of $8.4 million in year one but spike in year three to $12 million. That’s a lot of chewing-gum money.
If the two sides can come to an agreement that works, the Spurs will retain a homegrown talent that may already be worth a bigger contract, given his defensive prowess and positional versatility. And if he manages to add a reliable three-point shot to his arsenal, he’ll be even more valuable. Plus, Spurs fans will get to hear full-grown men exclaiming OH MAMA THE JUICE! for a few more years.