The Polarization of Ben Simmons

The projections Ben Simmons had coming out of LSU were LeBron and Magic Johnson level comparisons. Simmons is currently, four (really three) years into his NBA career and some national media members and many fans have soured on Simmons. He’s become this sort of polarized player who people either love or hate.

Simmons is undoubtedly a top player in the NBA. His averages of 16.7 Ppg, 7.8 Rpg, and 8.2 Apg, along with his league-leading 2.2 steals per game and 3.8 deflections per game speak to this point. Simmons isn’t a finished product by a long-shot and I think that’s something that gets misconstrued by a lot of fans and media personnel alike. Simmons is 23 years old and has only played three seasons in the NBA.

And those three years have been under a coach who simply hasn’t put Simmons in the best positions to be successful. Simmons talent on offense as either a facilitator, in his ability to get to the rim with absolute ease and versatility as a defender, as he can guard positions 1-5 have in a way, shined regardless of head coach Brett Brown. Think of LeBron James with Mike Brown, a coach who’s relationship with his superstar was the driving force behind Brown being the Cleveland Cavaliers head coach.

However as we all know, James would move on and become a better player under better head coaches. Like James and Mike Brown, Simmons has a great relationship with Brett Brown, and also like James and Mike Brown, Simmons defense has been great under Brett Brown. However, on the offensive end, a better coach can not only utilize Simmons better but the Sixers roster as a whole.

While coaching is a factor with Simmons, the roster construction around Simmons also can be better. Elton Brand has to do a better job of equipping the 76ers roster to his stars, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, strengths.

Simmons main ability on offense at the moment, is his ability to attack and get to the rim or either get fouled while attacking. The pieces around Simmons, given his vision and focus on facilitating, should be shooters i.e. a JJ Redick, not a 33-year-old center, in Al Horford, who’s only shot over 40% on 3s once in his career. Look at what Simmons did down the stretch of the 2017-18 season when he had marks-men from three, such as: JJ Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli, and Dario Šarić. Down the stretch of that season without Joel Embiid, Simmons led the 76ers to 16 straight wins, averaging a triple-double with 14.7 Ppg, 10.1 Rpg, and 10.9 Apg. For Simmons to be successful, the pieces have to be suited to his skillset.

A couple of weeks ago an ESPN article was published by Jackie MacMullan. In the article, Simmons spoke on the need to be held accountable and his need to be challenged.

Jackie MacMullen ©. 2020 (ESPN) https://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/29074004/ben-simmons-hears-talk-process-not-public-experiment

This quote that Simmons gave is an indictment on Brett Brown. Even going back to Jimmy Butler’s comments on JJ Redick’s podcast about how he didn’t know who was in charge and the silent film room occurrence, it’s clear Brown isn’t the coach that can grow the greatness out of Simmons.

The accountability just isn’t there with Brown as the 76ers head coach. And yes, the competitive fire has to come from within a player first, however, a coach can help with in a big way. Coaching matters and the accountability factor among coaches and their players (especially young players) matter. The great coaches in the NBA are guys who can bring out the greatness of their young stars, Jackson-Kobe/Jordan, Popovich-Duncan/Leonard, Larry Brown-Iverson, and the numerous players Pat Riley has developed. Great coaches have the ability to optimize the talent of their best players and have the ability to turn a star into a superstar/transcendent type player. Through Simmons first three years, Brett Brown has not shown this ability, which is puzzling considering 1) He is a former assistant of Greg Popovich and 2) Player development was what got him the 76ers head coaching job.

The elephant in the room is, of course, Simmons lack of a jump shot or lack of taking them. I say lack of taking them as the issue due to the fact that, we have seen Simmons shoot and shoot well, in pre-game, in the offseason and he’s even made 2 in-game (3 if you count pre-season).

We can all see that the shot is there and not just the three-pointer, which is what people focus on. People just watch and think he doesn’t shoot, so that means he can’t, but there is more to the story than what is perceived. It’s clear the ability is there, it’s just putting it into live game action that is the problem. For fans and media alike, it’s as simple as saying, just shoot it. However, for a player like Simmons, who’s never had to be that guy who was dependent upon to score outside of what he was comfortable with, being put into a situation where it’s paramount that he does and it’s as if that ability is needed to be developed almost overnight, can be overwhelming. It’s understandable from Simmons perspective, where he feels he should do what he’s comfortable with and what he knows to be the sure thing, that being his inside game, facilitating on offense and his ability in transition, rather than hoisting up shots when he isn’t comfortable taking them.

I can understand the point Simmons makes when he says he, “There are things I do on the court where nobody can stop me, when I’m putting up steals, assists, scoring in the paint,” and how he says, “With 3s, it’s never been like that. I’ve got to make it a point of emphasis. I could be one of those guys shooting 30% right now. But I’d rather be one of those guys shooting 40%.” It’s the perfectionist complex. If he’s going to do something, he wants to be able to do it a high level and help his team and not hurt the team by taking shots and just being okay at it. Simmons wants to be great and that potential greatness outweighs any criticisms there may be and there aren’t many of those. Simmons does so many things well and impacts games in so many ways (defensively, transition ability, facilitating, playmaking ability), some that can’t be quantified, and the one thing he doesn’t do is amplified tremendously without appreciation for the things he does do well.

For example, Simmons is the the second fastest player in NBA history to reach 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists (Oscar Robertson), Simmons also is tied with Grant Hill for the third most triple doubles by a player in his first 3 three seasons, and he averages, as stated, just under 17 points a game along with 7.8 rebounds per game and 8 assists per game. This is what he’s accomplished and what he’s doing while just operating mainly in the paint, in transition and at the free throw line, without the threat of a jumper.

While the shot will eventually come, that process of it developing is having ripple-like effects on the 76ers offense currently, mainly with Joel Embiid. Looking at the offense statistically, Embiid attempts around four 3s a game and this season, Al Horford has attempted the most 3s ever per game in his career. Fans and media make huge fusses about Embiid not being down low on the block and opting to shoot 3s instead, and Horford has even taken (deserved) flak due to how many 3s he has taken per game, but if all three (Simmons, Embiid, and Horford) are all on the court together (they shouldn’t be), one of Embiid or Horford have to be outside because they at least offer the threat to shoot which Simmons doesn’t.

There has to be some resemblance of spacing on the court and the lack thereof that Simmons creates by his unwillingness to shoot and opting rather to operate mainly out of the paint, has to be made up by one of Embiid or Horford taking the shots Simmons won’t. Make no mistake about it, the jumper situation is relevant and it’s real but it’s something that will come.

The potential greatness that Ben Simmons has outweighs any negatives that may exist right now. For many people, they talk about Simmons lack of a jumper and ignore the multitude of other things Simmons does at an absolute elite level, as if scoring (specifically jumpers), is the only way to impact a basketball game. He can literally do everything else, outside of that one thing, at an elite level and it’s not even that he can’t shoot, he won’t, at the moment.

Objectively looking at Simmons, I can see how the noise surrounding the entire jumper fiasco can lead to people having preconceived notions on Simmons, the noise is loud and the criticisms can be deafening at times. It’s sort of taken on a life of its own and become an extremely polarized subject that has developed a sort of, infamousness whenever Simmons is brought up. Simmons is the subject of many sports talk shows, “Will he shoot?”, “Should the 76ers look to move Simmons?”, “Why won’t he shoot?”. These the narratives that are being pushed, but it’s all amplified because people tend to focus on flaws rather than the positives of a situation. People have to find something to talk about and hate on. As reported in Jackie MacMullan’s report, this noise surrounding the jumper fiasco has even gotten to Simmons, who’s reportedly seen a sports psychologist about the issue. This in itself, shows that this issue is something deeper than Brett Brown or fans or media saying: just shoot.

As stated, Ben Simmons is 23 years old. LeBron James at 23 years old, shot almost five 3s a game and made 1.5 a game. Would you rather Simmons did this, and waste 4-5 possessions a game that could be converted into points. Would you feel at peace with Simmons then or would you be angry because he shot that many and didn’t make many of them, if any? James at 23, didn’t shoot a high percentage but he credits the San Antonio Spurs with making him improve his jump shot,

“I just want to be able to not have any weaknesses, you know, and allow a defense to dictate what I do,” James said, “Because of the Spurs, in a lot of my early years, [they are] part of the reason why my jump shot is a lot better today. My first Finals appearance in ’07, they went under on everything and I didn’t shoot the ball, I wasn’t comfortable with shooting the ball at that point in time in my career. So I give a lot of thanks to their scheme, a lot of thanks to a lot of other teams that I went against.”

LeBron James didn’t start shooting at a high percentage until he was 25-27 years old, but before this, fans didn’t clamor to trade James or call him a bum, this is because they realized the greatness he had and what he could be, with patience and time. It’d be foolish to trade a player of Simmons caliber, with today’s NBA and how it’s moving toward positionless basketball. Look at guys like LeBron, Luka and Giannis, the NBA is moving towards being built around 6’8 and up playmaking forwards and Simmons is in the same mold as those players. You don’t trade players like that, if anything, management should tailor the roster to fit them. Simmons game, like James game did, has to mature and if he truly has that greatness in him (I believe he does), it will show.

The key with Simmons is patience. Patience while he develops and matures and I understand it can be hard at times, but we have to look at what we have in Ben Simmons: A 23 year old who is 6’10 and 240 pounds. He’s a player with the frame of a forward but handle and passing vision of a guard. The polarization that has happened with Simmons through the media is unfair. If you truly watch Simmons and watch him objectively, there is no way you can say the potential he has and his current impact on the game aren’t enough to view him as a budding transcendent NBA superstar. The potential of Ben Simmons, should outweigh the negatives at the current iteration of Simmons game.

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Author: Pierre Baptiste Jr.

I am the creator of The Philly Blitz and I am committed to delivering innovative and interesting coverage on both the Eagles and Sixers. Contact Information: Twitter - @pierreb3_ Email: pierrotjr3@gmail.com

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