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NBADL Alum Jonathon Simmons Elevates To National Spotlight in the 2017 NBA Playoffs

Contributor Francis Adu looks at D-League alum Jonathon Simmons’ continued success in the NBA playoffs.

Photo by Marcio Jose Sanchez/Pool/Getty Images

At this point, Jonathon Simmons’s pro basketball origin story has been repeated ad nauseam but it’s hard to not understand why. His story of stretching a $150 investment for a chance to try out for the NBADL’s then-Austin Toros into a starting role for the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Western Conference Finals three and a half years later is a fairytale-esque journey. The best part of Simmons’s rise to prominence on a stage as large as the NBA Western Conference Finals has been him earning every bit of the rise.

Replacing injured franchise superstar Kawhi Leonard in the starting lineup of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against Golden State, the usually defensively-minded Jonathon Simmons decided to take advantage of the opportunity by scoring 22 points on 17 field goal attempts. Unfortunately for Simmons’s team, Simmons and rookie Davis Bertans were the only two Spurs to score competently against the overwhelming defense of the Golden State Warriors as they suffered a 136-100 road loss to go down 0-2 in the series.

The 22-point performance became Simmons’s 8th double-digit scoring output of the 2017 postseason. His eight double-digit scoring outputs already nearly halve the 17 10+ points games Simmons had in 78 2016-17 regular season games. Simmons can thank 40% shooting from beyond the arc for a lot of the increased scoring.

Simmons did not feature heavily in the first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies but he did earn his currently crucial spot in the Spurs’ rotation in the West Semifinals round versus the Houston Rockets. As a gambit to throw against the Rockets’ prolific perimeter shooting and quickness advantages, Coach Gregg Popovich undusted Simmons from the bench and entered him into 20-minute workloads to give the Spurs another athletically capable defender on star ball-handler James Harden and his plethora of shooting options. The Simmons gambit worked beautifully as Simmons’s considerable quickness and determination allowed the Spurs to both rest Kawhi more often off-ball and also better contest the perimeter shots.

However, when Kawhi got ruled out completely for Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals, Popovich had to lean heavier on Simmons and scrape up methods to find a way to keep up with Houston undermanned. The Spurs would respond with an unexpectedly phenomenal defensive effort with Simmons near the forefront of dissuading James Harden from getting any confidence throughout the game.

Simmons’s naturally hyper-aggressive style both tormented Harden and encouraged the Spurs’ offense to play decisively to attack the rim. Simmons provided 18 points on 12 field goal attempts in the ultimate blowout Game 7 victory while providing a tremendous two-way effort. Simmons had officially arrived and, as an upcoming free agent, had all but guaranteed himself millions of dollars that will make the $150 tryout one of history’s best spent investments.