Ben Simmons definitely has his limitations on the offensive end; his unwillingness to take jump shots is well documented.
But there’s one thing Simmons should never pass up, and that’s attacking the basket when there is an opening.
In the 76ers’ Game 4 loss to the Raptors there were number of times when Simmons had the ball at the basket or very near it. It appeared that Simmons didn’t even consider trying to score, or decided passing was a better option.
Here are three examples.
First: The most blatant instance of Simmons making the wrong decision to pass, despite his clearer path to the basket than the teammate he passed to -- Tobias Harris.
The Sixers have the ball on the break with James Ennis leading the charge. Kyle Lowry is in front of Ennis the entire time, but Ennis has Simmons and Harris trailing. Simmons can see that the only thing standing in his way is the much smaller Lowry while to his right, Harris is being chased by Serge Ibaka.
Rather than taking the ball to the hoop, Simmons passes to Harris. Harris’ shot is handily blocked by Ibaka, who would not have had any angle on Simmons had Simmons taken the shot.
“You have to be ready to attack at any point in time, damn sure in transition,” Jimmy Butler said of Simmons after Game 4. “When he has the ball in transition, Ben, don’t pass the ball in transition. Attack.”
Brett Brown followed up on Monday: “I think in general, especially in playoffs, those types of opportunities, even as good as he is, aren’t as frequent as you wished.”
Simmons has even less of a chance to impact a game in the postseason compared to the regular season. That makes a mistake like this sting. It could have been an easy two points.
For contrast: Here’s what Butler did in transition just a few minutes later.
Surrounded by the Raptors defense with no teammate trailing, Butler’s options were: dribble out, make a horrible pass or attack the basket.
He chose attack and was rewarded with a trip to the free-throw line.
As a player whose offensive game is relegated to a small portion of the paint, this should be Simmons’ mindest all the time. But it is not.
Simmons has only attempted three free throws through the four games of this Eastern Conference semifinals and he’s missed all three. Two of those misses came at the 3:49 mark of the second quarter in Game 4.
It has long been assumed that Simmons avoids contact because he does not want to go to the free-throw line, where he is a career 58.3 percent shooter. His coach does not see it that way.
“I do not connect those dots with him maybe passing up a drive or a shot because of a lack of confidence or a trepidation to go back to the free-throw line,” Brown said. “I don’t see it.”
Brown also noted how confident Simmons looks walking up to the charity stripe or receiving the ball from the official. But Brown doesn’t have many chances to actually see that interaction, especially when Simmons is shying away from plays like this one.
It doesn’t look like Simmons had any intention of trying to score despite having better position than Harris, who he again passes to, and who is again rejected by Ibaka.
The Ibaka and Pascal Siakam double-team on Simmons’ right side could have been solved by a simple left-handed finish, but because Simmons passes, Ibaka has enough time to re-calibrate and meet Harris.
There is an argument to be made that Simmons is trying to hold off Ibaka and Siakam with a screen, but if that’s the case, Simmons does a very poor job of it.
Another example: Late in the third quarter of Game 4 Simmons spins over his left shoulder. He already has the first step on Siakam, and the one defender to be most worried about -- Kawhi Leonard -- drifts out to help on the three-point line.
Even Ibaka is too worried to about the threat of leaving Joel Embiid open to close the paint, but Simmons never even faces the basket. He drove with the intent of passing, not scoring. With Siakam on the move, the worst-case scenario for Simmons would have been drawing contact on the drive.
“There are a few times maybe he could have gone a step further or tried to draw contact, either with a strong finish or a dunk,” Brown said of Simmons’ Game 4 performance. The coach followed up by saying that he was not bothered by the missed opportunities and didn’t see it as a concern.
But if you have a player who is not going to shoot from outside, doesn’t get to the free throw line and won’t attack the basket when he has the upper hand, that seems like it could become a concern if it doesn’t change.