Philadelphia 76ers’ guard Ben Simmons is for all intents and purposes a disgrace in the NBA playoffs. For the last four seasons, Simmons has contributed to an underachieving Sixers squad that has failed to get past the second round of the playoffs. Recently, the 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs, unsurprisingly in the second round once again. Throughout the seven-game series with the Atlanta Hawks, Simmons was a key cog in the Sixers’ frequent gaffes and numerous blown leads. Simmons arguably single-handedly lost two straight games for the Sixers during the series (games four and five). This was due to his lackadaisical and sometimes outright scared play and pitiful free throw shooting.
Simmons, throughout the Sixers’ two playoff series, shot 25 for 73 from the charity stripe, good for just over 34%. This places Simmons among the worst playoff free throw shooters by percent of all time. Simmons further dug a hole for the Sixers by refusing to admit to his mistakes or attempting to correct them. All of this resulted in an extremely disappointing end to a once-promising Sixers squad, which finished the regular season as the Eastern Conference’s #1 seed.
A Career of Underachievement
Ben Simmons has made a career of disappointing fans and coaches alike. Since winning the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award after the 2017-18 season, Simmons has seemingly regressed. During that season, he averaged 15.8 points per game, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists. His numbers have steadily declined since then. His line this past season was 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists per game. In addition to this, Simmons has not increased his level of play in any significant way as he is just a putrid at the free-throw line now as he was three years ago. For a Sixers team that has title aspirations, Simmons has been more of a hindrance than an asset.
Simmons, a three-time All-Star, has certainly not played up to that billing. In fact, Simmons has not even developed any kind of consistent jump shot in his four years in the NBA. He has continued to toil in driving to the basket and passing to his teammates. But he has never made a conscious effort to shoot more jump shots. As a point guard, Simmons can be a pass-first player, but not a player who refuses to ever shoot.
It is also not helping Simmons that he signed a max contract but does not display star-level play. This means that despite making superstar money, Simmons is no more valuable than overpaid teammate Tobias Harris. Harris, for the record, signed an almost identical max contract (five years, $180 million) during the same offseason as Simmons. These players are alike in that their best play is worthy of the financial commitment the Sixers gave them. However, their flaws are too great to justify their contracts.
Ben Simmons has also made a career of disappearing for long stretches of games, and even stretches of the season. The justification for this is two-fold: first, Simmons has proven that he is a very injury-prone player. For the past two seasons, Simmons has failed to play 60 games and has suffered several injuries. Second, Simmons is often absent from games, even when he is on the court. In game after game after game, Simmons brings the ball up to the frontcourt, passes it, and then seemingly wanders inside the three-point arc until the possession ends.
On numerous occasions, Simmons has handed the ball off and then just stood at the three-point line. This is a place he should have no business being considering he never shoots triples. Then when it comes to crunch time at the end of games, Simmons becomes an offensive liability due to his lack of a jump shot and pathetic free throw shooting.
The Exploitation of Ben Simmons
For all of his accolades, Ben Simmons has become a prime target of rival NBA coaches. Simmons, especially of late, has been the target of the Hack-A-Ben strategy. This process, adopted from the Hack-A-Shaq strategy, is when NBA coaches instruct their players to intentionally foul Ben Simmons. This forces him to shoot free throws at the end of games. Since Simmons is a career 59.7% free throw shooter, the rival coaches wager that should Simmons shoot a pair, he will almost certainly miss one if not two. Every Sixers’ possession then becomes Simmons shooting and missing free throws. So you can see how the rival team can slowly crawl their way back into a game.
The Hack-A-Ben was first tried in a game three years ago that the Sixers played against the Washington Wizards. Then-Washington coach Scott Brooks instructed his players to foul Simmons on each Sixers offensive possession during the fourth quarter of the game. The result was that a 25-point deficit was cut down to just ten points, just by fouling Simmons. Although Washington ended up losing the game, it proved that the strategy could work if the deficit is small enough.
Another way teams take advantage of the flaws of Ben Simmons is that they purposely leave him wide open when he is standing behind the three-point line. The reason for this of course is that Simmons is no threat to shoot or make a three-point shot. So teams can just double cover other perimeter threats the Sixers have and leave Simmons open. This means that a player like Joel Embiid, the Sixers’ only true star, is constantly facing double and triple teams off the dribble as rivals vacate Simmons on the three-point line. It also means that the space that Embiid and Simmons himself crave so much is all but negated because Simmons refuses to develop any semblance of a jump shot.
Where the 76ers Go From Here
For the Sixers, a second-round playoff exit seems to be the ceiling for their team as currently constructed. Clearly, the duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons is not good enough to put the Sixers over the top. This is evident because the Sixers we unable to advance to the conference finals despite Embiid’s MVP caliber season. Also, role players such as Tobias Harris, Seth Curry, and Matisse Thybulle all had the best seasons of their careers. So it seems that the 76ers are never going to win a title with both Simmons and Embiid. The Sixers are totally committed to their star center, both through team building and monetarily, so Embiid is going nowhere. That leaves Simmons, who will likely be in trade talks all off-season long.
If the 76ers truly want to maximize Embiid’s prime, they must move on from Simmons. Unfortunately for the Sixers, the league and its executives have an all too accurate reading on Simmons’ value. So that likely ensures that a Simmons for a superstar swap will not happen unless the Sixers are willing to give up substantial draft or player capital. So for those that are hoping for Simmons for Damien Lillard, I can say with confidence that will not happen.
Attainable players for Simmons will likely include fringe all-stars such as Trail Blazers’ guard C.J. McCollum, Bulls’ guard Zach Lavine, or Pacers’ guard Malcolm Brogdon. This may sound unimpressive for Sixers fans, but the reality of the situation is that Ben Simmons is himself a fringe all-star at best, so trading him for anything more than that is unrealistic.
The only word that describes Ben Simmons is enigma–or a person that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand. In essence, this is exactly what Simmons is, a baffling and extremely frustrating player to watch. What got Simmons to this point was likely extreme overconfidence. For his whole life, he has been told that he is the best: the best player, the best athlete, etc. Then Simmons was drafted with the #1 overall pick, considered to be the best player in the draft by the Sixers, and handed over to a head coach who did not hold his players accountable (Brett Brown).
After four years, Simmons finally got a head coach who has a reputation of holding his players accountable (Doc Rivers). Then we found out that Rivers has a soft spot for Simmons. All of this has contributed to the Sixers’ current position. They are walking the line between contention and mediocrity with no real chance to ever truly contend. The 76ers have a decision to make, keep toeing that line with no real chance of a title, or cut their losses now and trade Ben Simmons before it is too late.
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