The City of Philadelphia endured yet another heartbreak last night. As if that Kawhi three-pointer wasn’t scarring enough, fans watched in agony as the Sixers let go of what once felt like a very winnable series against the Hawks. Only adding fuel to the fire was the regression of Ben Simmons throughout the postseason. With the dust beginning to settle, the once prodigal son is witnessing the City very quickly sour and for good reason, but there are some scary similarities to another player who was once promised to be the savior of their team – Carson Wentz.
Before you grab your pitchforks and turn the caps lock on, breathe. This comparison isn’t about production. Carson Wentz had a near-MVP season and Ben Simmons hasn’t come close. Wentz has also worked with a lot less for a lot longer. This isn’t about expectations. It’s not about achievement. It’s about mindset.
If we turn back the clocks to 2018. Coming off of a heartbreaking ACL tear, Carson Wentz would miss the upcoming offseason due to rehab. A lot of people pointed to the way Carson Wentz plays the game when discussing the injury, quite rightly pointing out that the Daredevil mentality could only put him at further risk. The coaches expressed concern, but the NDU product didn’t.
“I’m not going to change,” Wentz said. “I think I’m always going to learn. I thought from first year to second year I learned quite a bit on how to protect myself and going back and watching again. You know there’s things to keep learning from.
That mentality extended far beyond decisions to dive instead of slide, however. Ball security had long been a concern when discussing Carson Wentz, even going back to the pre-draft process. When being sacked, Wentz would often try and heroically loft the ball down the field in the hopes that Zach Ertz would bail him out. A lot of the time, this worked and it made for some of the most breathtaking plays we have ever seen, and a ridiculous amount of close shaves.
After a stunning resurgence in 2019, many assumed that Carson Wentz was back to his best. Sure, a scary concussion at the hands of Jadeveon Clowney ripped away another chance at proving his worth in the postseason, but fans saw what they needed to. Carson Wentz put a team of practice squad promotees on his back and lifted them to a divisional crown.
2020 was a season that many will hope to forget and this is no way saying that it fell on Carson Wentz…but a fair share of it did. That portion wasn’t attributed to what Wentz brought to the table, but more what he took away. The thing with gambling is that the house usually always wins. If you’re going to do the same thing over and over and expect to get away with it, sooner or later, fate catches up.
Those risky passes that Wentz would let rip when going to the ground turned into some costly interceptions and a league-lead in fumbles. That lack of ball security plagued him. His overly wide stance hurt him. Mechanically, Wentz was a million miles away from where he was under John DeFilippo and people asked questions.
Reports surfaced discussing the practice habits of the former #2 overall pick. Others stated that his relationship with Press Taylor led to an overly relaxed ora to combat the fact that Wentz didn’t like working under John DeFilippo. Then there’s the alleged ‘pissing contest’ between Wentz and his Head Coach that led to the quarterback changing plays at the line of scrimmage out of seeming spite.
Carson Wentz was not the sole issue with the Eagles in 2020, but for a myriad of reasons, he was a large one and he was his own biggest enemy in a lot of ways.
Now lets talk about Ben Simmons. The man who refuses to pull up a jumper and can barely sink a free-throw. At first, we assumed he’d work on it. He’d suffered an ACL tear as a rookie, it’s obviously going to take some extra time to fine-tune his game. He’s young, the best prospect since LeBron. Magic Johnson didn’t shoot early in his career either, right?
Then it became the Brett Brown scapegoat show. Simmons isn’t shooting because Brett Brown isn’t the coach to get the best out of him. But does shooting even matter? Does Ben Simmons need to if he’s so generationally gifted? If that was the case, he wouldn’t have been benched in the postseason for T.J McConnell.
Fast forward a few years of the same debates and we find ourselves deep into a playoff run where teams are literally tactically fouling the Aussie in a bid to send him to the free throw line, knowing he would sink 50% of the shots on a good day. He ended his 2021 playoffs shooting 25/73 free throws.
Then came a wide open opportunity to dunk that was passed up with the game closing and resulted in nothing. Simmons was clearly in his own head and after another year of criticism had almost been negated by a defensive masterclass, the bubbles were beginning to boil.
Simmons had regressed throughout the postseason to a concerning level. His effort-levels had long been criticized for not being consistent and the clear holes in his game were now being exploited by opponents in a way that handicapped every heroic effort by Joel Embiid and Seth Curry.
After the game, Ben Simmons spoke to reporters and said the worst thing he could’ve possibly said.
‘I am who I am, it is what it is’
In terms of production and achievement, it’s impossible to compare Ben Simmons and Carson Wentz. But both were once highly-touted picks who were haunted by flaws in their game. As time went on, excuses began to run out and for no reason other than a stubbornness over the players they are, they remained unattended to. While on different trajectories in different sports, the refusal to change a part of your game that’s hurting the team acted as a catalyst to the demise of their time with the franchise that once believed they could conquer the world.