Magic Johnson was a point guard wrapped in a power forward’s body. He was a unique player in that he could play all five positions and be just as effective.
In 1980, Johnson started at center for an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game Six of the NBA Finals at the Spectrum and torched the Sixers for 42 points, 15 assists and seven rebounds while knocking down all 14 free throws in a championship-clinching 123-107 victory for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Johnson went on to win five NBA championships with the Lakers with regular season career averages of 19.5 points, 11.2 assists, 7.2 rebounds, 52 percent shooting from the field and 85 percent from the free throw line.
Why so much history about Magic?
Well, the Sixers now have another once-in-a-lifetime type of player in Ben Simmons, who just completed a highly-successful rookie season. Simmons or Utah’s Donovan Mitchell will almost certainly be named Rookie of the Year.
Simmons was far from perfect but he was terrific in the postseason, though the Sixers were knocked out of the Eastern Conference semifinals by the Boston Celtics in five games.
But his flaws did appear – struggles from the free throw line and the inability to hit jumpers from 15 feet or beyond. Still, Simmons averaged 16.3 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 7.7 assists in 10 playoff games. The only other player in NBA history to post such lofty numbers through his first 10 career playoff games? You guessed it – Magic.
But Magic worked tirelessly in improving his overall game. He was fiercely determined to get better every single season and despised losing.
Simmons surely is competitive, but he was a bit terse with the media when asked about improvements in the offseason.
“I have been healthy all year,” Simmons told reporters. “I have been blessed enough to play a full year so, in that way I look at it, it’s been a blessing to be able to play in the NBA and have a full year where I haven’t been hurt and had a healthy year, yes. But, the feeling right now, I didn’t want to be done. I feel like I had a lot more to go, but you have to look at the positives and the negatives and you got to keep moving forward.”
Simmons proved that he had the ability to drive to the basket. In the playoffs, the Celtics found ways to slow him down.
“Overall, I had a solid year, ups and downs like everything. I think I learned a lot,” Simmons said. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. I think offensively it’s going to be tough to stop me (with a jumper). I think it’s going to be scary.”
Confidence has never been an issue for Simmons, who was just a 55 percent free throw shooter during the regular season. Magic never shot lower than 76 percent from the free throw line in his Hall of Fame career.
It’s unfair to compare anyone to Magic, one of the all-time greats. Simmons has a chance to be special if he puts in the work. He’s off to a great start. What happens from here is entirely up to him.