Diagnosing the Sixers’ struggles: Ben Simmons

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The Sixers are having a fine-ish season sitting at 20-8. Looking like a sure-fire playoff team this season on the surface looks successful. That hasn’t quite been the case as the expectations going into the season were to dominate. The team has moments where they look unbeatable, usually when playing some good ol’ fashion bully ball, but more often than not their wins are far too close for comfort.

The Sixers have a few different issues facing them. Joel Embiid’s inconsistent play, Ben Simmons’ lack of growth, Tobias Harris’ fit in the offense, and game managing decisions by Coach Brett Brown that have hurt the team’s ability to win games. Embiid’s inconsistency has already been covered as you’ll see below, now it’s time to take a look at Ben Simmons.

Ben Simmons

Let me be clear from the jump, Ben Simmons is a generational prospect. He has more raw talent than 99.9% of players in NBA history. His athleticism compares to LeBron, and Giannis and he hasn’t come close to his potential yet. Simmons could become a top-three player in the league if he reaches his potential.

Stunted growth

The problem we’ve seen though is the obvious lack of growth Ben Simmons has shown since his rookie year. Projected to be a LeBron/Magic-esque talent, Simmons so far has looked closer to Draymond Green 2.0. Not a bad player by any stretch of the imagination but certainly not the player most people expected.

Simmons has seen minimal growth in different areas of his game but he’s not building on it. 2018-19 saw an increase in points for Simmons only to see a major decrease this season. His assists per game have gone up this season, but only after a decrease last season. Simmons’ rebounding numbers are also down but that is less concerning due to the new roster makeup. Possibly most concerning of all is Simmons’ refusal to shoot even still. Now, he has taken more shots (from outside the paint) this year than in the past and he has even made a couple of threes. That, while slightly encouraging, is far from enough. Here is a snapshot of Simmons’ statistical growth since his rookie year.

SeasonPPGRPGAPGBPGSPGFG%FT%
2017-1815.88.18.20.91.754.556.0
2018-1916.98.87.70.81.456.360.0
2019-2014.36.88.20.81.757.159.5

Where he has improved

Stats don’t tell the full story obviously. Simmons has gotten better in one area to be fair, his defense has improved by leaps and bounds. Simmons has turned into one of the prime defenders in the game. He is tall, long, strong, quick, and fast so he profiles as a staunch defender but his growth defensively has really been impressive.

Not only is Simmons a terrific on-ball defender, but he’s an even better off-ball defender. Filling lanes, intercepting passes, Simmons is active at every turn. Simmons is such a good defender, that he and Josh Richardson tend to switch of defending the opponent’s best perimeter score while Matisse Thybulle fills in the gaps.

Offensively, Simmons has just not seen the growth expected of him and you have to wonder sometimes, how much of that is based on a lack of desire?

You need drive to thrive

There have been questions for some time as to whether or not Simmons has the drive to improve and become more than just an All-Star. If Simmons wants to be counted among the best players today, of the era, of all time, he MUST have the commitment every single game that the best have had. Now I’m not even asking for the type of drive that Kobe Bryant had as that is a lot to ask of any player. The team does need to see him at least compete every night like Dr. J did, like Giannis does.

The room for improvement that is left is both promising and frustrating. Simmons has all the potential in the world but he’s barely tapped into it so far and hasn’t shown much interest in pursuing it. When he is driven, he is scary good, dominating. Simmons needs to find a way to unlock his drive and push himself to become the best.

Up Next…

The holes in the team persist and as difficult as it is to discuss the lack of effort from two stars, it’s even more difficult to discuss the lack of fit from a star who is giving it everything he’s got. Harris has tried every possible way to find his role in the offense and he has made some headway, but the needs of the team may require a look into trading Harris. But that is a topic for another day.

Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

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