The San Antonio Spurs weren’t supposed to win Game 6 of their playoff series against the Houston Rockets by 39 points with Kawhi Leonard sidelined. His replacement, Jonathon Simmons, played all of 11 minutes per game in the first round. On Thursday night, he scored 18 points in 31 minutes.
League Pass die-hards know how solid Simmons has been, but those jumping right into the playoffs don’t know his story. The idea that an undrafted rookie five years ago, who started his career with the Sugar Land Legends of the American Basketball League, would fill in as LaMarcus Aldridge’s scoring counterpart is ludicrous. But here we are.
Simmons shot 8-of-12 from the field against a lifeless Rockets defense in his first-ever playoff start. Houston disrespected his midrange pull-up game from the jump, and because of it, he was able to step on the gas and fire for 13 points in the opening half. With the lead already eclipsing 20, there wasn’t much more he needed to do to close out the game.
Simmons was no Kawhi Leonard. Nobody is. Instead, he was electric from the field, and a crafty playmaker filling in a huge role under an $867,000 salary. He also contributed to holding the league’s most potent offensive player, James Harden, to just 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting and six turnovers in an elimination game.
This isn’t new for him
Simmons has battled his way on the court as a standout who never stood out enough. He was an all-conference player for both junior colleges he attended and then averaged 15 points and five rebounds at the University of Houston. It still wasn’t enough to hear his name called on draft night.
After his first year with the Sugar Land Legends (which had its ups and downs as the league struggled through financial problems) came to a close, he paid $150 to try out for the D-League. It took two years for Simmons to touch an NBA court at 25 years old, and we’re left to wonder why.
Not only is Simmons an NBA player, he’s a dang good one.
In three regular season games against the Warriors, Simmons has been great, fine, and nonexistent. He played just one game in the teams’ most recent meeting but dropped 20 points in their first in October.
He won’t be asked to score as much with Leonard back, but if he can produce a solid all-around game like he did on Thursday (four assists), he may become a vital piece for the Spurs’ survival without Tony Parker.
However his team fares, it’s clear that Simmons is ready for a larger role next season. And, for the first time, it’s time he gets his pay.