The Times They Are A-Changin’ Ben Simmons
Dunk the ball. All Ben Simmons had to do was dunk the basketball. With just 3:30 remaining in Game 7 against the Atlanta Hawks, Ben Simmons had the ball in the post. The Sixers were down 88-86 and in desperate need of a bucket. Simmons had Danilo Gallinari guarding him and made a beautiful, aggressive spin towards the basket. He had Gallinari beat like a drum, as he found an open look at basket. The crowd at the Wells Fargo Center rose to their feet anticipating a dunk from Simmons. Instead, Simmons froze, and passed the ball to Matisse Thybulle on the baseline. Thybulle was fouled, and ultimately made one of two foul shots.
The Sixers sacrificed two points for a trip to the free throw line. It was crunch time in a Game 7 game. Two points could have saved the season and possibly, Ben Simmons career in Philadelphia. All Ben Simmons had to do was dunk the ball and for whatever reason, he just couldn’t.
After the game, Joel Embiid described the moment that Ben Simmons passed the ball instead of dunking it the turning point in the game. He was 100% correct and the Sixers would ultimately lose Game 7 on their home court to an inferior Atlanta Hawks team 103-96.
EMBIID AFTER LAST NIGHT’S LOSS
“I mean, I’ll be honest. I thought the turning point was when we — I don’t know how to say it — but I thought the turning point was just we had an open shot and we made one free throw and we missed the other and then they came down and scored. We didn’t get a good possession on the other end and Trae came back and he made a 3 and then from there down four, it’s on me. I turned the ball over and tried to make something happen from the perimeter. But I thought that was the turning point.”
Ben Simmons and his performance throughout the entire Atlanta Hawks series certainly cost the Sixers the series. Simmons scored just five points in Game 7. He finished the entire playoffs this year shooting 25-for-73 from the free throw line, which was the worst rate in NBA History. To make things even more frustrating, Ben Simmons was a ghost in the fourth quarter.
BEN SIMMONS IN THE 4TH QUARTER
- Game 1: 2-2 FG
- Game 2: 0-0 FG
- Game 3: 1-1 FG
- Game 4: 0-0 FG
- Game 5: 0-0 FG
- Game 6: 0-0 FG
- Game 7: 0-0 FG
Across seven games against the Atlanta Hawks, Ben Simmons took a total of three shots. It’s almost hard to believe. Even when looking back at previous years in the playoffs, hell, even in the series against the Wizards, Ben Simmons was never this bad.
So what exactly happened?
The million dollar question in regards to Ben Simmons is what is going on inside his head when he steps foot on the basketball court. Yaron Weitzman, wrote an article on Fox Sports today that walks you through Ben Simmons and his collegiate and professional career. It describes a player that was always allowed to do things his on his terms, guided by an organization and coaching staff that fails to hold Simmons accountable. Credit to Weitzman, the article is incredible and I will certainly be referencing a lot of it over the next few paragraphs.
Weitzman also wrote the book Tanking to the Top, which described the 76ers organization and The Process. I read it during quarantine and it’s a fantastic read that any Sixers fan should grab immediately.
SUMMER LEAGUE BEN SIMMONS
Before fracturing his foot during the 2016 Summer League, Ben Simmons was in fact, taking mid-range jump shots. After his injury, he spent nearly a year and half working with shooting coach John Townsend, who was hired by Brett Brown to work closely with Simmons on his game, specifically shooting.
According to Weitzman’s article, the fact that Simmons and Townsend were working together had everyone excited, as Ben was beginning to work on his game and expanding it to the next level in his development. That was until the Simmons Camp had different plans. Simmons’ agent, Rich Paul, and his family decided that Ben Simmons would be better off working with one of his brothers rather than Townsend.
Brett Brown was uncertain about the reason for the change but as Weitzman states, it didn’t matter. No one questioned it. Why would they? Ben Simmons was still a very young player in the league and the Sixers just won their first playoff series in the Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid era. There was no reason to question Simmons and his decisions on who he wanted to work with.
Simmons, deciding that he was going to develop on his own terms, clearly misjudged the impact on his own game. His free throw shooting regressed. His shots outside of 16 feet plummeted. Former assistant coaches questioned his progression and even went as far as saying that he hadn’t improved one area of his game.
From there, we all know the story. It played out right in front of us and at times, directly during media sessions with Brett Brown and Ben Simmons himself. At one point, Brett Brown even pleaded with the media to contact someone in Ben Simmons’ family to tell him to shoot the basketball. It was bizarre and unsettling for Sixers fan to watch.
Simmons remained defiant, stating that his job was to facilitate the basketball. He answered “I’m an All-Star” as a response to questions on his shooting ability. He would tell the media that he likes to create and how him shooting doesn’t fit into the play style of the 76ers.
All things considered, Ben Simmons was never questioned or held accountable by anyone. When the 76ers tried to intervene and help him progress, he fell back to what was comfortable instead by working with his family. This is a trend for Simmons that has stayed with him throughout his entire basketball life.
THE HEIR TO THE THRONE
Simmons moved from Australia at the age of 15 years old. He was deemed the “Heir to the Throne” by SLAM magazine in reference to Lebron James being the current king. He had documentary crews following his every move during his short time at LSU. He was the number one pick in the NBA Draft. He earned NBA Rookie of the Year honors. He has been named All-NBA and has been runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year voting. No one has stepped in to question or hold Ben Simmons accountable besides the people that Ben Simmons himself has allowed into his circle. According to other stories and reports over the last four years, that has consistently been brought up as a problem.
Sixers fans hoped that after the Brett Brown years were over, a new coach would finally be able to harness the God given gifts of Ben Simmons. Doc Rivers, took almost a complete opposite approach. It was evident throughout the season. At the start of this season, Doc Rivers said “he didn’t care” if Ben Simmons would shoot the ball. He fired back at reporters saying “they don’t know basketball” during round one of the playoffs when Ben Simmons was questioned. Time and time again, throughout the season, Doc Rivers refused to hold Simmons accountable. The red flags were there. Ben Simmons was still doing what he wanted to do rather than being told what needs to be done.
THE ROAD AHEAD
Four years later the Philadelphia 76ers are entering another offseason that’s filled with uncertainty surrounding Ben Simmons. For Simmons, there is no arguing that he has officially hit rock bottom. Rather than getting ready for the Olympics as a member of the Australian basketball team, Simmons will ultimately opt out to focus on improving his game. When Doc Rivers was asked in today’s media availability about Ben Simmons and his shooting, he had this to say:
“I believe, without going into detail with what we’re doing, I believe we know what the right work is, and the right type of work, and the right way to do it. You can do the work all the time. But if it’s not done in the right way and the right type of work, you may not improve. After being here for a year, I really do believe we’ve identified what and how, and now we have to do the do part. We have to work to do it. It’s not going to be an easy job. But it’s definitely a job that Ben can do.”
Completely ignoring the obvious pushback to Rivers’ statement on why did it take you until game seven of the playoffs with the season on the line to realize that Ben Simmons needs to work on his shooting, Doc Rivers is telling us that Ben Simmons can fix his problems and that they are going to work hard this offseason in making sure that he does just that.
“Obviously what Ben just went through … I can’t imagine that. Because he has so much greatness in all the things around him that he does, and there’s areas he can fix quickly, in my opinion, and get better, that will take him to another level. And, you know, sometimes you don’t know why you’re in different places, you know what I mean? But this may be one of them, and I look at this as a great challenge, but definitely a doable one.”
The level of criticism Ben Simmons is currently facing in Philadelphia might be beyond repair. He is the only one that change how everyone views him moving forward. Rock bottom is dark, lonely place to be. A change in scenery could be beneficial for the 24-year old, but I honestly don’t think that will happen, and I’m happy that it won’t. The Sixers won’t get fair value in trading Ben Simmons but hopefully they can work with him now that all of his flaws were shown in embarrassing fashion on a national stage against the Atlanta Hawks. Ben Simmons himself acknowledged how bad he performed during the Hawks season and how Sixers fans were in the right to be harsh critics of his play.
A CHANCE AT REDEMPTION
First things first, Ben Simmons needs to finally get comfortable with whatever hand he wants to use to shoot the ball through the rest of NBA career. From there, Simmons needs to correct his foul shooting. Simmons needs to be open to a position change, something he has pushed back on several times over the last four years (Jimmy Butler, Raptors Series). Lastly, at the risk of over simplifying things, he needs to accept failure and become more vulnerable of a man. Ben needs to be broken down, then built back up into the aggressive, almost violent basketball player that we know he can be. The rebuild, without question, needs to include a jump shot.
Ben Simmons is a tremendous basketball player that is clearly going through some major mental and confidence issues when it comes to performing at a high level on the offensive end of the court. The always introverted, often coddled, and rarely held accountable Ben Simmons will have to build himself and the trust of Philadelphia 76ers back up himself. Is it possible? Yes. But of course, there’s work to be done.
Please spare us the offseason videos. Keep the cameras out of the gym. It’s time to prove everyone else wrong and be the player you are expected to be night in and night out on a basketball court. Be uncomfortable. Accept criticism. Work hard. Be better.
The Times They Are A-Changin’ Ben Simmons. It’s up to you to figure out what happens next.