Farewell to Ben Simmons. Mr 25. Mr. Triple-Double. The Fresh Prince. The guy who was supposed to be the Robin to Joel Embiid’s Batman. It is a goodbye that is long overdue but one that should not have ended this way. One of the foundational pieces of “The Process” and the second star that catapulted the Sixers into contenders, Ben Simmons is certainly not the worst draft pick in recent Sixers history but absolutely will go down as the most hated.
The Early Days
It was not all bad times. Like when you won the 2018 Rookie of the Year trophy, or when you choked out Karl Anthony-Towns in defense of Joel Embiid. Or even when the Wells Fargo Center erupted like it had won a championship after Simmons knocked down a meaningless three-pointer before the halftime buzzer of an exhibition game.
There was genuine excitement that was brought to the Sixers organization as the 6’11 forward would streak coast-to-coast much more fluidly than a man of his size should be capable of. As time went on it, felt as if this sharpness and determination in his game began to slow down. While he still dazzled with his handle and passing ability, it felt as if the substance beneath it was not there.
The Shooting Woes
There has been such a major deal about the willingness to shoot (or lack thereof) since Simmons came to the NBA. It was the biggest on-court red flag coming out of college. Many people have attempted to sugarcoat it; it absolutely has shrunk the lefty’s ceiling.
Besides the weird fact that he is petrified to do what is universally regarded as the most fun part of basketball, the trajectory of Ben Simmons’ shooting habits have gone in the wrong direction since coming to the league. While there were signs of potential early on in his career, Simmons has had an increasing disinterest in shooting the basketball.
During his rookie season, Simmons attempted 12.3 field goal attempts per game which ranked third on the team behind Joel Embiid and JJ Redick. He produced 15.8 points per game with this amount of attempts. In this 2017-18 season, Simmons attempted 82.9% of his shot attempts from within 10 feet of the basket.
To contrast this with what was seen last year in Simmons’ final season with the Sixers, he attempted 10.1 field goal attempts per game, which trailed Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Shake Milton for most attempts on the team. He averaged 14.3 points per game last year, which is the lowest mark in his career. His number of shot attempts dropped to 7.9 attempts per game in the playoffs, which is nearly half of what he shot in his first postseason. During the postseason, he attempted 91.4% of his shot attempts within 10 feet of the hoop in the regular season and 95.8% of his attempts in the postseason.
The Mental Side of Things
It wasn’t the shooting that was the most frustrating part of Simmons’ game, or rather any technical ability that was the weakness that shined the brightest. It is extremely clear to just about anyone who has watched the LSU product play is that there is a fear to do the things he isn’t good at. While his camp and some analytical minds may attempt to swing this as evidence of his efficiency, the fact of the matter is you cannot reach your potential in anything by staying in your comfort zone. The unwillingness to push this envelope will continue to limit Simmons’ potential until a switch flips, and he finds a true desire to chase greatness.
Ben Simmons came to Philadelphia as a unique and impressive athlete with sky-high potential but serious questions about his desire or ability to reach this. After spending five and a half seasons with the franchise, he leaves just about the exact same guy.
The Charity Stripe
The largest example of this can be seen in Simmons’ relationship with the free-throw line. This is an interesting topic for NBA players as for some, it is a welcoming place to cash in on free points, while for others, it is an intimidating challenge and weak spot in their play. So far in his career, Simmons has averaged 4.2, 5.4, 5.2, and 4.9 free-throw attempts per game. He has a career average of 59.7% at the line, which is a decent margin below the NBA average of 77.3%.
While they are likely coordinated, it is not the percentage but the attempts that are the largest concern in my mind. Given his slashing style and ability to attack the rim, if he had put the necessary work in to become a great free throw shooter, it could have absolutely changed his level of play. For example, Giannis Antetokounmpo carried similar shooting concerns when he came into the league. Despite this, he embraced it and is currently leading the NBA in free-throw attempts at 11.1 per game.
By NBA standards, Giannis is still a below-average free-throw shooter but has worked his percentage up to 71.7% for his career. These free points can play a major role in a team’s success as well as an individual player’s overall statistical growth. Joel Embiid is another great example of a player who has weaponized getting the free-throw line as in his career, he averages 9.3 attempts per game and connects at an 80.9% rate. This unchecked box on Simmons’ resume could drastically add to his scoring ability and also is one that becomes increasingly important during the crunch time of games and in playoffs.
End of Simmons Era
The time that Ben Simmons spent in Philadelphia leaves far more “what-ifs” than anything else. You can line up any of the variety of excuses that have been pushed out from Simmons camp for why the path was particularly difficult for Simmons. But so many of these issues that he seems to have tied to Philadelphia or the 76ers will follow him wherever he goes.
Ben Simmons is far from a bum on a basketball court. He is likely the NBA’s best defender, is an impressive shot creator for others, is a dangerous combination of athleticism, and has an overall very high basketball IQ. But despite these impressive characteristics, it will take a long look in the mirror for him to correct the massive flaws that overshadow these.
He still is only 25-years-old and is heading to the Nets, where he will play next, arguably the best scorer of all-time in Kevin Durant as well as an impressive part-time costar in Kyrie Irving. The lack of offensive responsibility and pressure could absolutely be a reason to believe that his best days are ahead of him. But it also is evidence of how willing he is to be put in a box when he is capable of more.
From the Sixers’ perspective, the trade for James Harden is nearly a dream trade for the franchise. As much as everyone has talked themselves into it working for so long, it is clear that Ben Simmons’ game does not compliment Joel Embiid to the full extent. James Harden is a legitimate perimeter talent that will open things up for an Embiid in a way that has not happened before. While it was a frustrating ending to the Simmons era and one that was handled in a disappointing way for quite some time, the Sixers have entered a new era and are in a better direction because of it.