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Opinion

In defence of Ben Simmons, the NBA's most hated star

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Roar Rookie
10th August, 2021
11

When Ben Simmons was drafted as the first overall pick in 2016, the hype was unreal.

For some, he would simply be Philadelphia’s saviour. For some of the more extreme Ben Simmons lovers, his potential was the next LeBron James.

Regardless of where you stood on that spectrum, the 6”10 point forward was expected to take the league by storm.

Then he got injured in the pre-season and missed the entire 2016-17 NBA season.

Not really a big deal.

In that season, Sixers big man Joel Embiid finally played his first game in the league and blossomed into a better centre than anyone expected him to be, as his combination of defence, post game and perimeter scoring started the movement of a position less big man.

Despite being drafted in 2014, and him not playing two seasons prior, many fans rallied for Joel Embiid to be the rookie of the year. And had it not been for another serious injury that limited him 31 games, he most likely would have taken the award home.

Heading into the 2017-18 season, the hype for Ben Simmons still remained. After seeing what Embiid was doing, adding a point forward who could get Embiid the ball had Sixers fans excited for the future.

And if he lived up to the hype, Ben Simmons would most likely run away with the Rookie of the Year award. Except an obstacle stood in his way: Donovan Mitchell.

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The race became heated as Mitchell and Simmons fought for the award.

Simmons fans argued that his impact on the game, his triple-double ability and defence was what should give him the nod. Mitchell fans (and perhaps Simmons haters) only seemed to have one argument: Mitchell was a true rookie, as opposed to Ben Simmons who had “been around the team for a year”.

Fans seemed to ignore precedent, and even their own reaction. Blake Griffin won the Rookie of the Year award in 2011 despite missing the 2009-2010 season with an injury, with very little negative fan response.

Fans even seemed to ignore that Simmons’ own teammate, Joel Embiid, was the fans’ pick for Rookie of the Year, despite missing two full seasons. Despite it never being an issue before, it suddenly was for Ben Simmons.

The memes, the mockery, the booing.

Overnight, Simmons became one of the league’s villains.

Ben Simmons

(Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Since that rookie season, he’s been a 3x All-Star, a 2x Defensive 1st team selection, and made the All-NBA third team just a season ago.

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Fans had warmed a little to Simmons, even if his lack of ability to shoot from outside the paint led to him being labelled “overrated”.

Then, the 2021 Playoffs happened.

Now I will admit, I’m a big fan of Ben Simmons.

I also admit that his attitude towards getting better is pathetic, but recent online fan reaction since the playoffs would have you think that he is Kwame Brown. Some of the more idiotic fans would argue that Kwame Brown is better.

However, this online attitude comes down to two things. One, is his lack of shooting. Yes, in the year 2021, the ability to shoot is important. However, Ben Simmons is so good at everything else that this is something you’re willing to put up with.

Let’s look at his stats.

Firstly, since NBA fans glorify triple-doubles more than gold, let’s start with that.

Simmons has put up 32 triple-doubles in his career, and is currently 13th all time. This is more than Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyle Lowry and Draymond Green.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

He has the ability to pass, rebound and is dominant in the paint. He’s bigger than most point guards, meaning he can beat them with height, but his speed also means he can beat most big men off the dribble when attacking the paint.

And in case fans forgot, Simmons was the runner-up in Defensive Player of the Year in 2021. His size and frame makes him strong enough to defend all five positions, something that made Draymond Green so wanted in the NBA.

You know, the Draymond Green who also can’t shoot but is still one of the league’s best assets.

Now, let’s discuss recent fan backlash since the playoffs.

As much as I think Simmons gets a hard time from fans, even I cannot sit here and defend the guy for how he played. It was horrific. He massacred the sacred art of basketball.

But to sit here and act like every single player in the NBA hasn’t had a bad series is ridiculous.

I’m not here to defend how he played. His inability to want to score and his offensive liabilities cost the Sixers the series. What I will defend, though, is the reaction from fans and teammates.

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In recent weeks, reports have come out that Simmons hasn’t communicated with the Sixers since they were eliminated. This has led to fans mocking the star, asking, “Why should he be mad at them?”

Let me explain to you.

Immediately after the Sixers’ loss in Game 7 to the Hawks, Joel Embiid was asked what he thought the turning point was.

Embiid responded with: “Honestly… I think it was when we missed an open shot and then didn’t hit free throws.”

Embiid says ‘we’, but what he really means is Ben Simmons.

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Then, in the same press conference, Ben Simmons’ own coach, Doc Rivers, stated that he didn’t know if Simmons could be a point guard on a championship team.

So, hours after one of the worst games of your career, where an entire city already hates you and Twitter is mercilessly making fun of you, his coach and his teammate publicly throw him under the bus, blaming him for their loss.

Now, I am not here to say that his teammates shouldn’t hold him accountable. Part of a team sport is pulling your teammates up when they’ve made mistakes and driving them to be better.

What I am saying, though, is that these comments should have been made behind closed doors, not in the press.

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So I ask you, the reader, this question: if your own teammates, coach, city you were drafted in and parts of your own home country all hate you, downplay your talent and mock you for being angry at all these parties, why would you want to return?

Simmons needs to move on from the Sixers. The bridge is burnt, and it’s not being fixed.

It doesn’t help that Daryl Morey is overstating his current trade value (even if I think Morey might be more accurate in value than other front offices).

However, wherever Simmons goes next – and there will be a ‘next team’ – I hope that fans give him the chance to get his confidence back.

I hope he gets teammates that don’t throw him under the bus.

And mostly, I hope that fans start to realise that, despite his flaws, you would give up a lot to have him on your team.

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