Ben Simmons does not like to talk about his flaws, and it seems that the 76ers front office and head coach are taking the same approach.
Despite multiple questions regarding Simmons and what is expected of him in postseason interview sessions, there wasn’t much more clarity from the players, general manager Elton Brand, managing partner Josh Harris, and coach Brett Brown over the last two days than there was before.
Every time Simmons is asked about his lack of a jump shot and his plans to expand his offensive game, his default move was to give one-word answers that did little to show that he cares and that there is a plan and that he has the same expectations for his career as those around him.
Does Simmons expect to expand his game beyond the paint?
How does he plan to make that a reality?
That’s what Simmons said Monday. He has said that before, and yet this season, he shot the ball less from any kind of distance than he did in his rookie season.
When Brand was asked Tuesday whether he would be OK with Simmons still not shooting next season, he deflected and noted all of the things Simmons does well.
“Our exit meeting was about things that he’s working on,” Brand said. “Of course, everyone says shooting, but just be comfortable shooting. His defense was elite this year. So many facets to his game that’s going to grow, and he’s only scratched the surface.”
Brown also mentioned Simmons’ improvements from the free throw line, which is true, and noted the changes in offense that put Simmons in the post more often this season, which is also true.
“I stand by, this isn’t going to be the thing that defines him immediately, [but] it will at some point, for sure,” Brown said. “He’s shown the type of versatility that we should all be thrilled with at age 22 and 6-10 that I can use in different areas. ... If I’m sitting in front of you and he’s 26, I think the conversation would be a little bit more disingenuous.”
Simmons has improved some areas of his game. He was an All-Star this season without a jump shot, which makes the future look bright. He developed more of a post game, showed flashes of better utilizing his size and speed when attacking, and improved his free-throw shooting. But his versatility is often forgotten when he passes the ball and becomes an afterthought in the offense.
It won’t take four more years for Simmons to feel the heat about his lack of shooting. If he is still as reluctant to take shots in his third season, the conversation will intensify.
These problems pop up because Simmons does not have a mid-range or outside game: spacing, movement, and offensive scheme options.
For a long time, many critics noted that the Sixers wouldn’t run enough pick-and-roll plays. That’s because they didn’t have good pick-and-roll players. Now, with Jimmy Butler, the pick-and-roll has started to become part of the Sixers’ repertoire.
Today, some of the fans’ biggest criticisms is the placement and use of Joel Embiid and the amount of perimeter shots he takes. Beyond the fact that this isn’t 1980 (or 1990 or 2000) and that the game has changed, the fact that Simmons cannot stretch the floor impacts where Embiid is placed and how he is able to move.
When Simmons is in the paint or hiding out in the dunker spot, a defender is right there with him, clogging the lane. When Simmons is anywhere outside of the paint, it makes it easier for his defender to sag off, cheat a little bit on help, or even come off him to double Embiid. To that point, a more fair criticism of the team should be that the off-ball movement needs to be better to open up players when Embiid is double-teamed.
It’s no secret that a Simmons jump shot would help the Sixers, and Brown has raved about the work Simmons puts in to improving. The problem is, we aren’t seeing results. It’s not even that Simmons is missing shots, it’s that he isn’t even taking them.