Ben Simmons had a year where his numbers declined. He has still not committed to creating space for Joel Embiid to be effective in the post. It is time for the Philadelphia 76ers to move on.
It’s game one of the 2020-21 season for the Philadelphia 76ers. Out of the locker room, there’s some new faces — players and coaches. Along with a new scheme, a new philosophy is infused within a system that intends to improve a team that underachieved the previous season. What stands out most? The Sixers’ new point guard.
He dribble-penetrates and finishes, unafraid of contact. He pulls up for 3 within the flow of the offense. He runs fast breaks and hits free throws at an 80 percent rate. He effectively runs pick-and-rolls, keeping the defense honest and on its heels. I am not speaking of Shake Milton, who will be coming off the bench. I am also not speaking of Ben Simmons. Who is the point guard? I do not know, but to make this team run more efficiently and create the spacing needed for Joel Embiid to become the great player he is meant to be, the 76ers must trade Ben Simmons.
Why is this extreme proclamation the focus of this article? Well, as the title of Mick Jagger’s song goes, “old habits die hard.” Put simply, Ben Simmons won’t shoot, and will not, if he returns as a Sixer.
Look at it this way — Ben Simmons has been playing organized basketball since he was in grade school. He played in high school and one year of college at LSU. He will be entering his fifth official season as an NBA player (if you include 2016 when he was sidelined with an injury). What makes us think he will suddenly start shooting regularly in a game when his past actions tell us otherwise? Clearly, it is a mental issue, but I would argue that it is more attitude. What is the genesis of Ben Simmons’ stubbornness to shoot perimeter shots?
To grasp the mental approach of Ben Simmons, you only need to look at what was going through his head as the top college player in the nation at LSU — Hollywood. No, I am not thinking of Kendall Jenner, mansions, fast cars, or partying. I speak of the 2016 Showtime film that he starred in, One and Done. In this documentary, the camera follows Ben Simmons around as the emphasis is on how NCAA athletes should not have to play at the college level if they have the talent to play professionally. It also conveys how the NCAA generates an insane amount of revenue and disproportionately compensates college athletes.
The concept of an unfair NCAA compensation system is not new, as evidenced by the federal lawsuit filed by UCLA college-great, Ed O’Bannon. Simmons though, whose father played pro ball, was the player who put himself out there to make this film and highlight the fact that his LSU experience was a waste of his time. Can you imagine the audacity for a player, who just started growing facial hair, to make such a bold statement? The thinking is, I am already good enough to make it to the pros, why do I even need to be here? One of those reasons was probably to develop the other part of his game, you know, shooting the basketball outside the paint?
Ben Simmons’ issue, though he will probably never admit it, is that he thinks that he is good enough without a jump shot. Yes, he did attempt a few 3s in the regular season, and he even made less than a handful, but after Brett Brown projected that Simmons would shoot at least one a game, he completely shut down and did not shoot one again until the Disney bubble opened. Why did he do that? To spite the coach? To get fans off his back? Again, his attitude has always been, my game is good enough, now leave me alone. Didn’t you all see the documentary I made? I am a great player just the way I am!
Ben is such a one-dimensional offensive threat, he is like Forrest Gump until he went to the army. Like Forrest, Ben would just run, run, run. Quite frankly, Ben is superb at running the fastbreak. But if you saw the movie starring Tom Hanks, the protagonist we all came to love, eventually expanded his horizons and picked up a ping pong paddle. Why can’t Simmons pick up a ping pong paddle? Fear? Temerity? Stubbornness?
I know some Sixer fans are just waiting for the next social media posts of Simmons working on his game (Cue Sixers radio voice, Tom McGinnis, audioclip, “Get excited!”). We have seen them three summers in a row. The pick-up games with fellow NBA players in upscale gyms. The amazing pull-up jumpers he hits from everywhere on the floor. The heavily edited versions though, where nobody sees how many he missed.
Think of the psyche of a player whose vanity is so potent that he would go through the trouble to post this footage and raise anticipation of his fans just to barely shoot them at all when the team needs him most. Some believe that he is afraid of shooting jump shots. I do not think that he is afraid of taking them. I think he is afraid of missing them and then tarnishing his golden-child persona, being the No. 1 draft pick and Rookie of the Year.
The idea of not wanting to look bad at something is natural — when you’re a kid. When you’re a professional, you should refine your craft to the point where your millions of dollars are justified, and the fan base, therefore, feels satisfied.
Well, how can Simmons refine something that he has yet to develop? How many more years, or documentaries and social media posts, will it take for Simmons to admit and demonstrate how his commitment to the team success comes from his willingness to take perimeter shots in games at a higher rate? Unlike some Sixer fans, I am not willing to wait. If we do, the hamster wheel will keep going round and round, and more subsequent playoff disappointments are all we have to look forward to.
Can the coach make a difference? I don’t think so. How can a coach, who only earns a quarter of what a superstar player makes, motivate a Hollywood player like Ben Simmons? If Simmons couldn’t improve his game after four years of being coached by the man who coached his own father, why would he change for Jason Kidd or Jay Wright?
Elton Brand has already said that Embiid and Simmons trade offers are not on the table. I think it is a mistake. With the current roster and players like Al Horford and Tobias Harris, it is almost impossible to avoid the same offensive woes the Sixers experienced last season. Ben Simmons will most likely be here next year, but if he does not break his old habits, it will be doom and gloom again in Philadelphia for Sixers fans. It will be the same ole’ song from Simmons, accompanied by the sound of basketballs clanking off the rim.