The Sixers are finding out that J.J. Redick and Jimmy Butler mattered more than they thought. Redick was a veteran scorer who made uncontested shots and Butler was the close out scorer who made tough plays. This current version of the Sixers has failed to fill the void of Redick and Butler, and to a lesser extent T.J. McConnell. The off season pickups of Al Horford and Josh Richardson were nice additions but the Sixers have the 7th best offense in the Eastern Conference. Their calculation is that their defense will make up for what their offense lacks, particularly the Ben Simmons paradox.
An elite passer and finisher, Simmons is woefully inept at making jump shots. This year, he is making 35% of his jump shots.
From 3-10 feet, he has taken 79 shots and made 34%. He has taken 11 midrange shots, less than one a game, and made 3 of them for a 27% average. His 39 hook shots on the season go in 35% of the time. He takes a lot of layups because he is quick to the rim and a great finisher. But until he expands his game with confidence, the Sixers are going to find themselves stuck in no man’s land. Not able to get to the Finals and too good for the lottery.
This season has been a peculiar one for Simmons. He is posting career high numbers in assists, 8.5. But his scoring is down because his shot attempts are down. He’s not rebounding like he did his first two seasons. Last year, he was responsible for 20% of Philly’s rebounds. Now it’s 16%. Credit Al Horford for changing that part of Simmons game. But if he wanted to copy Horford, he would take more threes than the 4 he has attempted for 50%.
Simmons usage rate is a career low which is problematic since he’s the primary ball handler. More ying and yang of Ben Simmons: he is stealing the ball at an unprecedented rate (for him).
The Sixers are 4th place in the East. It feels strange that Simmons is treading water. In a player’s third year, his game usually comes together. That is when his confidence explodes. He knows what he can do and exploits weaknesses. And yet, in year three it’s hard to get a grasp on the player Ben Simmons wants to be. Does he just want to linger in the paint and get to the rim for a layup? Is he content being a third option on offense, allowing Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid to shoulder the load? Are 17 points and 8 assists enough for him?
Ben Simmons is more talented than Tobias Harris. But Harris is a second option because he’s more aggressive scoring the ball. Go in or not, Harris is going to launch shots.
In the present, Ben Simmons reticence is hurting Philly. It narrows the Sixers ability to win games on the road. Because the Sixers don’t have a bench, the starters are expected to do more than teams like Milwaukee and Miami who have skilled subs.
Simmons is going to have to do more than take 10 shots like he did on the road against Washington. Tobias Harris took 28 shots in that game, more than he should have but because Simmons defers too much what is Harris supposed to do? Turn down shots?
After the NBA Finals ended and the trophy was handed out and the champagne was poured, the losers had to take stock. Everyone said Giannis Antetokounmpo had to improve his jumper if Milwaukee wanted any chance at a title. They said they same thing about Sixers point forward Ben Simmons.
But only one player listened.