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The OFFICIAL 2021 All-Lefty Team
OK, OK: It's not officially official ... but it's not International Left-Handers Day to me without announcing my squad
On this very important holiday, I can exclusively reveal Ben Simmons’ next team.
Today is International Left-Handers’ Day and, yes, Simmons has (narrowly) claimed one of the six coveted spots on my 2021 All-Lefty Team.
Simmons’ almighty playoff struggles, lowlighted by 34.2% shooting from the free-throw line and leading to the leaguewide expectation that the Philadelphia 76ers will trade him as soon as possible, were impossible to ignore. Yet he did too many good things across the entire season as a playmaker and pace-pusher, as well as finishing runner-up to Utah’s Rudy Gobert in Defensive Player of the Year voting, to be omitted from this squad.
It did take moving Simmons to the backcourt, mind you, to find an opening for him. It also required choosing him over Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox, who made this exclusive club last August, but the 76ers’ highly available Simmons indeed landed as the fifth and final starter for my annual compilation of the NBA’s foremost southpaws.
As a lefty myself, I've been fascinated for years by the scarcity of fellow southpaws in the league. There are only 313 known lefties among the 4,396 players in Stathead’s database to have played at least one NBA game — just 7.1% of the league’s all-time population. The world’s overall left-handed population is routinely estimated at 10-12%.
So I put out an All-Lefty Team every August to honor these outliers, employing a format inspired by the modern ballot for the NBA All-Star Game: Three frontcourt selections and two in the backcourt … plus a bonus sixth man.
Something tells me you'll have no hesitation to let me know in the comments if you agree or disagree with the choices.
Julius Randle (New York), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana) and Zion Williamson (New Orleans)
Scan through those three names and you'll quickly understand why Simmons had to be considered a backcourt candidate to have any shot at retaining his All-Lefty status. He wasn't going to beat out any of them.
Williamson rebounded from a rookie season marred by injuries that limited him to 24 games by averaging 27.0 points and shooting a ridiculous 61.1% from the floor for the Pelicans while expanding his game as an offensive initiator. Williamson also reached the All-Star Game to join Sabonis, who assembled another sterling all-around season (20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game) with the Pacers.
Randle? He merely broke through in his seventh NBA season, without warning, to emerge as the All-Star centerpiece of a Cinderella Knicks team that finished fourth in the East after it was universally predicted to finish nowhere close to the playoffs. Randle's postseason struggles in New York’s first-round exit to Atlanta seemed as distressing at the time as Simmons' eventual woes against the Hawks, but two bad weeks can't diminish how far beyond expectations Randle delivered over the preceding five months — particularly with his 41.1% shooting from deep. He shot 27.7% on 3s in his first season as a Knick before averaging 24.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists to win Most Improved Player honors.
James Harden (Brooklyn) and Ben Simmons (Philadelphia)
Even if you believe that the hamstring issues which forced him to miss 21 of the Nets’ final 24 regular-season games and then plagued him throughout the Milwaukee series stem from his own failure to start the season in Houston at a passable fitness level, Harden continues to be the best left-handed basketball player in the world — and perhaps only a championship away from placing himself firmly behind only Bill Russell in the race for all-time lefty supremacy. When Harden did play, he was as fearsome as ever (24.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 10.8 assists per game).
The most agonizing choice of this exercise in 2021 was Simmons vs. Fox. Perhaps I’m punishing Fox (25.2 points and 7.2 assists per game) too hard for a playoff drought that is certainly beyond his exclusive control — Sacramento has tied an NBA record for futility by missing the playoffs for 15 consecutive seasons and counting — but I tried hard not to be swayed more than I should be by the record levels of Simmons slander in circulation.
Unless he decides to start shooting as a righty, as some have implored him to try, Simmons will difficult to dislodge from this squad — with apologies to Fox and the other guards (Utah’s Mike Conley and New York’s RJ Barrett) who presumably won’t appreciate how I placed him here after listing Simmons in the frontcourt in multiple recent All-Lefty squads.
Joe Ingles (Utah)
Ingles finished second behind Utah teammate Jordan Clarkson in the real-life Sixth Man Award race, but there was no denying him this time — especially just days removed from Ingles' contributions to the first men's basketball medal (bronze) in Australian history in Tokyo. Beyond averaging 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game and shooting 45.1% from 3-point range, Ingles moved seamlessly into Utah’s starting lineup when needed as the Jazz coped with extended injury absences for Conley and Donovan Mitchell.
It should be noted, though, that Ingles had plenty of company here with many more options than usual, indicating that the overall quality of the league's lefty contingent is rising.
Forty-nine lefties appeared in at least one game in 2020-21, according to my pals Mike Lynch and Mike Kania from Stathead, to fall one shy of last season's record-setting 50. Dallas' Jalen Brunson, Charlotte's Miles Bridges, Chicago’s Thaddeus Young, Phoenix’s Cameron Payne and Miami's Goran Dragić (still the league's oldest southpaw at 34) all had a case in this category.
As part of the league's promised crackdown on tampering as laid out by Commissioner Adam Silver in September 2019, Silver announced plans to randomly audit five teams' communications with other front offices and player agents after every season. As September 2021 approaches, I'm told that the league's timeline for implementing those five random audits and the specific lengths such audits will go to remain TBD after two consecutive seasons amid a global pandemic and the workload challenges they have imposed on the league office. As covered extensively in Tuesday's newsletter, investigations into this month's sign-and-trade deals that landed Kyle Lowry in Miami and Lonzo Ball in Chicago are already underway, with the league insistent it will continue to investigate cases as situations warrant. … Former Virginia center Mike Tobey hasn't played in the NBA since a brief stint with Charlotte in 2017, but his strong play in the Olympics alongside Luka Dončić with Slovenia might have rekindled Tobey's prospects for a return to the league. He turns 27 in October, has one season left on his contract with Valencia Basket in Spain and does possess a release clause that would allow for an NBA return. Yet I'm told it would take a guaranteed contract above the league minimum for Tobey to make the finances feasible for such a leap before this coming season. Tobey holds great value to Valencia not only because of his skill as a 7-footer with 3-point range but as a European passport holder. … Italy's Virtus Bologna leaned hard on the NBA for its offseason upgrades, hiring former Raptors assistant and longtime Spain head coach Sergio Scariolo as its new coach, followed by the signing of Warriors restricted free agent Nico Mannion to team with the backcourt wizard Miloš Teodosić, Marco Belinelli and Ekpe Udoh.