For Ben Simmons, it’s all about feeding his teammates, attacking the rim, and playing lockdown defense.
The 76ers want their “facilitator” to control every aspect of the game, and that’s fine with him.
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“The one thing about me is I can score no points, and if we’re up 50, I’m happy,” said Simmons, who was averaging 13.3 points, 9.9 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.3 steals. “I’m not coming out here trying to have a certain average or score 50, 40, 30 points. I’m coming out here to win, whatever [it takes], I’m going to try to get it done whether it’s defensively or making the right reads and getting the team set.”
Those attributes have enabled the 24-year-old to become a third-team All-NBA and first-team All-Defensive selection, and a two-time All-Star. That’s not all, it enabled him to receive a five-year, $177.2 million contract extension in July 2019.
As you can see, life is good for one of the world’s best players. But it could be better.
Simmons is an enigma when it comes to his hesitancy to shoot midrange jumpers or three-pointers.
In Thursday’s road win over Orlando, he buried his first three-point attempt of the season. That came after he made 2-of-7 last season. Simmons went 0-for-17 during his first two seasons in what were mostly long heaves at the end of quarters or halves.
“Joel [Embiid] threw the pass,” he said of Thursday’s three. “He knew I was going to put it up. Those are shots I work on, corner threes. I feel comfortable taking it. So I knocked it down.”
Playoff games are often decided in the half-court, where outside shooting is most needed. If Simmons were a threat to shoot from the outside, it could make the Sixers a tough out in the postseason. In the past, knowing Simmons wouldn’t shoot, teams would almost dare him to shoot by sagging off him.
Yet, others will point to the Sixers’ acquisitions of Seth Curry and Danny Green to help provide spacing. They point out that Simmons’ biggest impact is his versatility and that knocking down three-pointers or midrange jumpers shouldn’t be his job. Let Curry, Green, Tobias Harris, and reserves Shake Milton, Furkan Korkmaz and Mike Scott do it while Simmons continues to lock down the opposing teams’ primary scorers.
The Knicks’ RJ Barrett (1-for-8 shooting, two turnovers), the Cavaliers’ Kevin Love (0-for-3, two blocks), the Raptors’ Pascal Siakam (3-for-11, one turnover), and the Magic’s Markelle Fultz (1-for-6, one turnover) all struggled while guarded by Simmons.
Coach Doc Rivers says he doesn’t have a problem with Simmons’ lack of three-point attempts.
“I’ll let you guys talk about what Ben doesn’t do,” Rivers said on Dec. 29. “I just want Ben to keep playing great defense, running our team and winning games.”
The coach doubled down on his comment when asked if Simmons’ confidently knocking down Thursday’s three-pointer could give him a confidence boost in that area.
“Honestly, I could care less,” Rivers said. “I just thought it was in the flow of the moment and he shot the ball. That’s what he’s supposed to do.
“We didn’t have a parade or anything. I can tell you that. I just want Ben to be Ben, and that’s what I keep stressing with him.”
But let’s be real. To go far in the postseason, the Sixers (6-1) will need him to be multidimensional offensively. They’ll need him to take opponents off the dribble and kick the ball to open teammates or finish strong at the basket. They’ll also need him to bury open jumpers.
That shouldn’t be a tough ask.
Simmons makes three-pointers during practice and pregame workouts. There were also videos that circulated the previous two summers of him burying them. Green has even been encouraging him to take more of them during games.
Two nights before Simmons hit the three in Orlando, he passed up open threes against Toronto when the Raptors sagged off him. On Thursday, he was unguarded while running to the corner as Embiid brought the ball up. Noticing that, the center quickly fired him the ball. Simmons took one step to the right and buried a 24-footer early in the first quarter.
“We love seeing him takes threes, and it’s even better seeing him makes threes,” Matisse Thybulle said. “So I think everyone was pretty excited, even the Orlando fans.”
Thybulle is right. The crowd, of which a sizable portion was Sixers fans, erupted in applause following Simmons’ shot.