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The Spurs May Have Found Another Diamond In The Rough

Jonathon Simmons’s freakish athleticism was on full display in Tuesday night’s season-opening win.

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The San Antonio Spurs’ 129-100 win over the Golden State Warriors in Tuesday night’s season opener was shocking in a few ways. I mean, who actually expected the Spurs to roll over a stacked Warriors lineup on the road? But the most surprising part may have been the electrifying performance of Jonathon Simmons, who scored a career-high 20 points in 28 minutes.

Who is Jonathon Simmons? We’ll get to that later. First, though, let’s run through his insane highlights from the game against the Warriors.

Sure, the game was a blowout, but let’s dispel with the notion that Simmons dropped most of his buckets in garbage time. His jumper looked smooth, and his ability to drive and finish with contact was on display the whole game, especially in the first half when he scored 15 points and hit three-pointers to end the first and second quarters. Here he is nailing a deep, buzzer-beating three to close the first half:

The real Simmons Show, however, came in the second half. Here he is tracking down reigning back-to-back MVP Steph Curry. As Curry found out Tuesday night, there is no such thing as an easy layup when Simmons is in the game.

Simmons put the final touch on the Spurs’ big win as the clock wound down in the fourth quarter. Driving to his left from just outside the top of the arc, the six-foot-six Simmons cupped the ball in his right hand and exploded toward the hoop. In his way stood Warriors backup center JaVale McGee, a true seven-footer with an insane seven-foot-six wingspan. To put it mildly, Simmons won that matchup at the rim. Watch it for yourself (warning: some viewers may find this posterizing disturbing).

McGee was never seen again.

For Simmons, this game may be the beginning of a new chapter in what has already been a fascinating story. Simmons was raised by a single mother in northeast Houston and attended Smiley High School, notorious for its poor academic performance. He took a circuitous junior college route before landing at the University of Houston, where he led the Cougars in scoring before opting for the NBA draft ahead of his senior season. According to a profile on Simmons last year by NBA.com, Simmons decided to try to go pro because he needed to provide for his three daughters.

But things didn’t work out as Simmons planned. No team selected him in the 2012 NBA draft, and he ended up toiling in a shaky semi-pro league for the next year, playing in high school gyms and dominating the competition for the Sugar Land Legends near Houston. At one point, according to NBA.com, his mother pushed him to consider giving up basketball to become a barber instead. Simmons stuck with the game, and in 2013 he paid $150 to tryout for a D-league team in Austin. His athleticism wowed coaches in attendance, and after a few years working on his game in the D-league the Spurs finally offered him a contract in July 2015. He quickly impressed head coach Gregg Popovich with his passing ability as much as his high-flying athleticism.

“He sees things; the second or third iteration,” Popovich told the San Antonio Express-News last year. “You can see the first guy that’s open, but sometimes he sees something else developing on the floor. That’s hard to coach. I don’t know if you can coach it. It’s just a natural affinity for that part of the game, and he has that.”

The Spurs have a knack for finding guys like Simmons. Franchise legends Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were unheralded draft prospects, and the Spurs developed former second-round picks Patty Mills and Danny Green into important role players. Simmons seems like a good bet to be San Antonio’s next diamond in the rough.

As a 26-year-old rookie last season, Simmons played a small but key role on the Spurs’ second unit. He saw the court in 55 of the Spurs’ 82 games, and averaged six points in about 15 minutes of action per outing. Simmons got an unusual boost in playing time Tuesday night because Green was out with an injury, but if he can continue to perform like this, even with limited minutes, he could be an important asset to an already deep Spurs bench. Given his uplifting backstory and rim-rattling performance on Tuesday night, no matter how many minutes he may get in the future, Simmons Time will be must-watch TV for basketball fans from now on.

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