Ben Simmons morphed from a top young prospect to an offensive liability in the space of a single season. Few star players have fallen from grace so hard or so fast. It’s important to examine how things got to be so bad. Not only that, it’s worth considering if things really are as bad as they seem.
Simmons’ Journey From Hero To Zero
When the Philadelphia 76ers drafted Ben Simmons first overall in the 2016 NBA draft, the hype was real. Scouts and media figures touted him as the ultimate modern NBA player. A 6’10” point power forward with solid handles, insane athleticism, and elite defensive ability. He possessed all the physicals gifts to guard positions one through four with ease. On top of that, he flashed elite playmaking skills and good judgment during his one season with LSU. Overall, he was a tantalizing prospect with the potential of turning into a generational talent.
After sitting out his first year with a foot injury, Simmons exploded in his second season. Over 81 games, he averaged a cool 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 8.2 assists. This performance earned him the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year, just barely edging out his chief rival, Donovan Mitchell.
Since then, he’s made 3 All-Star appearances (’19, ’20, and ’21), further adding to his star appeal. Even more impressively, he’s made 2 NBA All-Defensive Teams (’20 and ’21) and the All-NBA Third Team (2019-20). Some argued that he should have won Defensive Player of the Year this season over Rudy Gobert.
Such an argument has merit, given that Simmons recorded the 5th best individual defensive rating in the league this year. Every night he takes on the toughest defensive assignments, often guarding the most dynamic playmakers in the game today. Regardless, even though Simmons didn’t win the award, the fact remains that the Sixers are an elite defensive team. They posted the second-best defensive rating in the NBA during the regular season (107.0), largely due to the defensive prowess of Ben Simmons.
A few months ago, Ben Simmons was considered one of the two corner pieces of a franchise with championship aspirations. Fast forward to today, and he’s an offensive liability with no future in Philadelphia being shipped in every hypothetical trade deal imaginable. The honeymoon is officially over for Ben Simmons.
The Good, The Bad, And The Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons is a frustrating player to watch because he is so talented. Few players in history possessed his mix of height, strength, athleticism, and versatility. He is one of only 10 players ever to average 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists during a season. What are the other names on that list, you may ask? Oscar Robertson, LeBron James, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Luka Dončić, Nikola Jokic, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan. That’s a pretty good list to be on.
Simmons is a walking triple-double waiting to happen. In just 4 seasons, he recorded 32 triple-doubles, tied for 6th among active players, and 13th all-time. He brings so much to the game beyond his stat lines. His presence is one of the main reasons Philadelphia went from relative obscurity to a championship in the space of a few seasons. His passing ability is exceptional, he’s a monster in transition, and he produces a highlight reel night-in and night-out. Stars sell tickets, and fans love it when stars ball out with sick passes and even sicker dunks.
Ben Simmons’ game is so well-rounded. That’s also why it’s doubly disappointing that his biggest flaw is also the most prized attribute in today’s league: shooting.
To put it bluntly, Simmons is a bad shooter. However, that statement tends to paint too murky a picture of his abilities. It’s not that he can’t shoot, but rather that he refuses to shoot.
Fans and other teams watch him pass up open jumpers time and again to either find an open teammate or drive to the basket. His avoidance of shooting is now the most talked-about aspect of his game, and it is affecting his performance and value. Nowhere is this more true than his woes at the free-throw line. This was on full display in the playoffs, when he shot an abysmal 34.2% on over 70 attempts. That was good enough to earn him a record for the worst playoff free-throw shooting percentage in history. Not an award you want to win.
Is The Process Over For Ben Simmons?
For the past few years, “The Process” became the mantra in Philadelphia. The staff and players all presented a united front in advocating for developing the team’s young stars. Markelle Fultz, the former 2017 NBA Draft number 1 pick, became the first casualty when the team traded him to the Orlando Magic for a bag of chips. Is Ben Simmons the next player on the chopping block for the 76ers?
Simmons still offers plenty of upside, but his fit with Joel Embiid is now fully in doubt. If any questions remained about which player represented the future of the franchise, that argument has finally been laid to rest. The 76ers are Embiid’s team, and rightfully so after his MVP-caliber performance during the regular season and playoffs. Now, the 76ers are faced with a difficult choice. Should they trust in the process, and help Ben Simmons develop his shot, or shop him for pieces they can put around Embiid now?
It’s tempting to trade Simmons for another shooter or playmaker who can complement Embiid’s skillset. At the same time, Simmons’ trade value has never been so low, that it’s hard to imagine him netting a comparable player for the 76ers. Would trading Simmons for CJ McCollum push the team over the top? What about Andrew Wiggins? Kyle Lowry? All flawed players, like Simmons, and all come with their own baggage.
Simmons could still develop a shot. He may dedicate himself to improving on his game and gain confidence in his ability to shoot the ball. His free throw woes might disappear, and he could become an average free throw shooter. But those are all big ifs. For now, it’s looking more and more likely that Simmons will be wearing a different jersey next season. Especially with Daryl Morrey, the deal-maker, calling the shots in Philadelphia.
Time will tell if any trade involving Ben Simmons was a good deal or not. For now, at least, the honeymoon is over for Ben Simmons and the 76ers.