Otherwise even-keeled, criticism regarding Ben Simmons has been the one thing that has fired up Doc Rivers with the media this season.
Since taking the reins in Philadelphia, Doc Rivers has proved to be the right man for the job. He has pressed all the right buttons on players, and it is tough to argue that he hasn’t maximized the skillset of just about every player. Basketball decisions aside, Rivers also has been a vast change in tone from the head coaching position. Brett Brown and his Brooklyn accent had worn out their welcome, and Doc Rivers and his 22 years of experience were a needed change.
While he typically faces the media with a politician-like suave and answers with even-keeled thoughts, Rivers has continually gotten riled up over one thing, Ben Simmons.
Rivers in the Early Months
From the minute Rivers took over, it was clear he was in Ben Simmons’ corner. Doc immediately attempted to take pressure off of Simmons by talking about how he had no worries regarding his offensive development. Rivers emphasized that he viewed Simmons as a facilitator rather than a scorer and continually refocused the conversation of what Simmons does well. He also was reportedly firmly against trading Ben Simmons when the discussions surrounding James Harden occurred.
Like many who have watched Simmons play, Rivers talked about how impactful Simmons’ game is beyond the stat sheet. Following a victory over the Lakers in January, Doc playfully put it- “the winning things he does is hard to put into numbers.” He has also showered him in praise for his ability to control the team’s pace, creating looks for others, and led a Defensive Player of the Year campaign.
The Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid Relationship
In addition to the criticisms of Simmons’ shooting, Doc Rivers has also worked to squash the rumors surrounding the relationship of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. These whispers have grown throughout the four years the two have spent on the court together and seemed to increase during the Jimmy Butler saga.
This narrative has been overblown from the start and one that has lingered on for far too long. While Simmons and Embiid are not an ideal on-court pairing, each are extremely talented basketball players and more than capable of making it work. These issues can also be attributed to an ill-fitting supportive cast, which Daryl Morey has done wonders to fix this season.
Rivers Breaking Point
Following the Sixers’ game four loss to the Wizards, Doc Rivers appeared to hit his breaking point with the media. When a question regarding Ben Simmons lack of scoring in Embiid’s absence and if this was fair criticism was asked, Rivers replied:
“No. But you guys keep this Ben Simmons narrative alive, which to me is freaking insane- how good this guy is and all the things he does. Ben is not a 40 point guy. It’s not what he does, he does other things for your team, and I just don’t understand why that’s not sinking in, in our city. You know, everybody on the team doesn’t have to be a scorer to help the team. Ben scores, but Ben creates scoring for us- that’s what he does. So, you know, if I’m Ben at some point, I’d get tired of it. I just would. Because he’s just too good, and he does so many good things for this basketball team, and I keep saying ‘celebrate him,’ celebrate all the stuff he does well. We don’t do that enough.”
Doc Rivers then had his mic drop moment before walking off when a question regarding Simmons’ free-throw shooting was more specifically asked. Rivers had previously pointed out that he was not upset with Ben splitting his free throws during the “Hack-a-Ben” strategy by the Wizards because one point per possession is pretty good analytically. Rivers said he did not consider taking Ben off the court and, in what turned out to be the final question of the media availability, Doc finished by saying:
“With Ben, we’re gonna keep him on the floor. Unless you guys want us to bench him the whole game. If anybody wants us to do that, just let me know, and then I’ll know you don’t know basketball.”
This outburst was the most outspoken Rivers has been all year and the only time he has come close to losing his temper with the media.
Doc’s True Thoughts on Ben Simmons
One thing that is important to note here is that what Doc Rivers actually means and what he says could have no correlation. Rivers is well aware that the comments he makes will be tweeted out and written about on so it is essential to say what he wants to be reported. A good coach is able to utilize the media to their advantage by spreading a positive message out to circulate amongst the public, and there are many examples of Doc Rivers doing just that this year.
Regardless of what many fans and media members may think, no one knows what is best for Ben Simmons more than the guys who interact with him on a daily basis. Doc Rivers has clearly done his best to shade Ben Simmons from as much criticism as possible with the hopes of this putting him in the best spot to succeed. The former first overall pick has not been short on criticism throughout his young career and teased about this following his triple-double in the game five victory.
Regardless of your thoughts on him and his play style, Ben Simmons is essential to the success of the Sixers. Averaging 14.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, and 9.2 assists in round one, Simmons was the most important player in the Wizards series. It is nice to see Doc Rivers continually defend one of the Sixers’ stars even with so much criticism being piled on him. The LeBron James and Magic Johnson comparisons that were tossed at him when entering the league were an extremely high bar to live up to any unrealistic expectations for anyone. Ben Simmons is an extremely impactful player, and the Sixers are a much better team with him on it. He should be appreciated for this.