Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard is going to continue to play at his MVP level every game, but in order to beat the Houston Rockets and advance to the Western Conference Finals, San Antonio may need a significant contribution from NBA D-League alum Jonathon Simmons.
The 27-year-old scored a playoff career-high 14 points in Wednesday’s Game 2 win over the Rockets, leading the Spurs’ second unit in scoring. He was efficient and energetic during his 20 minutes of action, seemingly all over the floor on both ends, giving the older Spurs roster exactly what it needed.
Now, with the news that point guard Tony Parker will miss the rest of the postseason due to a ruptured left quadriceps tendon, Simmons may be forced to play more minutes and assume more responsibilities.
He can help in ways aside from his energy and athleticism on a veteran squad – his perimeter defense is also impressive. Opponents shot just 32.2% from outside of 15 feet when Simmons was guarding them during the regular season. For comparison’s sake, opponents shot 38.3% when Leonard, the reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year, was on them in the same circumstances.
This postseason, Simmons’ defense has been stellar. He has held opponents to 2-for-9 (22.2%) shooting from 3-point range after an equally impressive 28.4% mark during the regular season. Houston led the league with 3,306 3-pointers attempted in the regular season and they have already hoisted 253 3-pointers through seven playoff games thus far. If the 6’6″ swingman can hold his own against Rocket launchers Eric Gordon, Lou Williams and Trevor Ariza, the Spurs stand a much greater chance of advancing.
The Spurs’ culture always seems to breed talent, with the coaches getting every ounce of potential from their players. With San Antonio’s “next man up” mentality, it may be Simmons who is called upon to save the season for the Spurs.