Ben Simmons was supposed to be the next LeBron James, or at least the next Magic Johnson.
Yet, as his fourth season drew to a close after a disappointing playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, I can’t help but feel that those high hopes everyone once had for the Australian are now nothing more than a pipe dream.
I will give credit where it is due. Simmons has become one of the best defenders in the league and having the ability to defend all five positions on the court is not something to blink at.
However, as the saying goes, great defence will always be beaten by greater offence, and in a playoff setting where the ends of close games tend to be isolation heavy, there is only so much Simmons can do.
The All Star point guard has certainty regressed on the offensive end from his rookie year. In fact, he is a zero on offence and he is a liability due to his atrocious free-throw shooting.
Because of this, Simmons isn’t a superstar. There isn’t anything wrong with that, however the fact that he has shown little to no improvement on the offensive end is concerning and quite frankly a letdown.
For comparison, you only need to look at the two players Simmons beat out for the 2018 rookie of the year award in Jayson Tatum and Donovan Mitchell.
Tatum has already been to two conference finals and has shown that he can score in a variety of ways as well as being clutch down the stretch.
Mitchell, on the other hand, hasn’t had the same level of success in the post season, yet it’s clear that he is only getting better and his explosiveness around the court, paired with his elite scoring ability, has him being compared to NBA legend Dwyane Wade.
Both Tatum and Mitchell will be the front men for their respective teams for the next decade assuming they stay on their respective teams. Simmons, on the other hand, finds himself in trade rumours on a daily basis and while it’s clear he doesn’t fit with the 76ers’ roster, it’s time to start questioning if he can ever meet the expectations we all had of him.
Simmons’ most recent playoff series against the Hawks illustrated just how bad things have got for the point guard as Atlanta were deliberately sending him to the free throw line as it was an easier way to save points and time opposed to just playing defence.
Simmons was so bad from the line he set the record for the lowest free-throw percentage in the playoffs. Because of this, in the last two minutes of each quarter, Simmons couldn’t touch the ball as he would have been fouled and sent to the line.
Also, due to the fact that Simmons can’t or won’t shoot from outside the paint, it effectively meant that the 76ers were playing four on five on the offence at the end of games, leading to the Sixers pulling him from the game and sitting him on the bench.
Lowest FT% in a single playoffs in NBA history (min 70 attempts):
34.2 — Ben Simmons in 2021
37.4 — Shaquille O’Neal in 2006
38.0 — Wilt Chamberlain in 1968
Elite company. pic.twitter.com/s14R8cCSKm
— StatMuse (@statmuse) June 21, 2021
Because of his inability to knock down free throws, Simmons’ confidence was clearly at an all-time low, so much so that he no longer attacked the rim let alone take a shot as he didn’t want to be taking free throws.
In the seven games this series, he took a total of three shots in fourth quarters and more often than not was left standing in the dunker’s spot, having little to no impact on the game.
Ben Simmons 4th quarter this series:
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
— Tom Haberstroh (@tomhaberstroh) June 21, 2021
In all of the close games, Simmons could do nothing but watch on. The reality was he was actually helping his team more by being on the bench then the court.
After Game 7, 76ers coach Doc Rivers simply said that he didn’t know the answer when asked if Simmons could be the point guard for a championship team.
Meanwhile, Simmons’ teammate Joel Embiid made it pretty clear that he thought Simmons was at fault for the loss.
After Game 7, Joel Embiid made a not-so-subtle reference to a late fourth quarter possession when Ben Simmons passed up an open look at the rim. ???? pic.twitter.com/lRLUb2gNaO
— theScore (@theScore) June 21, 2021
After four seasons together, it’s clear that the 76ers won’t win with Simmons and after being publicly criticised by his MVP-calibre teammate, it seems that the Australian will be out the door, but where to?
It’s crazy to think that it was only in January that the 76ers could have had James Harden for Simmons and a few other assets. Now getting a player at that level may prove to be impossible, especially after all of his flaws have been laid bare in the playoffs.
Regardless, the Sixers will have to trade the Aussie as they cannot afford to waste Embiid’s prime, particularly when you consider the uncertainty around the centre’s health.
Hopefully one day Simmons can unlock his full potential and live up to the hype, however for four years we have been told that he’ll improve and get better and he simply hasn’t.
And until he does, all I can hope for is that the Australian sports media can stop trying to tell us he’s a superstar and give us all a dose of reality: that he is nothing more than a good defender and passer.