Fixing 76ers’ Ben Simmons problem is complicated

The Philadelphia 76ers fell to the Atlanta Hawks in disappointing fashion after a gritty seven-game series. While the series was hard-fought, it was clear there that not only is Atlanta a better team than most gave them credit for, but the Sixers have some glaring holes to fix on their team that needs to be addressed.

No one has wanted to say it. For the last couple of years, everyone has laid out their excuses and reasons as to why the Sixers have not won a championship or even just made it to the NBA Finals without looking at the underlying cause.

It is the simple truth that has been staring them in the face but continues to be ignored. Ben Simmons can’t shoot. Let me rephrase that: Ben Simmons refuses to shoot the basketball.

There’s a difference.

Simmons can shoot. Maybe he hasn’t shown it much in-game, but the ability is there. We have seen it in years prior, in the midrange and really whenever he feels like it. However, Simmons is not playing in a “whenever I feel like it league.”

He is playing against the best of the best. It is no longer about what he wants to do, it is about what he needs to do and is not willing to.

What he needs to do is put the basketball into the basket, especially at the free-throw line. Simmons shot 34.2% from the free-throw line this postseason. As a professional basketball player and one who handles the ball most of the time, that is an abysmal number.

With a 70-shot minimum, Simmons’ off the mark statistic is the worst in NBA playoff history. Opposing teams were going with the “Hack-a-Shaq” rule versus Simmons and it was working to the point where he was on the bench at the end of games.

For Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers and the rest of the organization, how can your second-best player, best defender and starting point guard be sitting on the bench to end crucial games and it be okay?

It’s not. Does anyone in Philadelphia see that there is something wrong with that? Over the last three games of the series, Simmons scored eight in Game 5, six in Game 6, and just five in Game 7.

Simmons scored three field goals total in the fourth quarter throughout the entire seven-game series. This is simply inexcusable.

Now, credit must be given where it is due. Simmons was playing great defense throughout the series and doing his job facilitating the basketball throughout the series averaging about 8.5 assists.

Simmons could be the best at every other part of the game but the truth is it comes down to one area: putting the ball in the hole. There have been great players who were not great scorers, like Dennis Rodman, but most of them were big men and none were ball handlers.

The ball is in his hands; he needs to be a threat and he is not.

Even Rivers seem to lack confidence in Simmons. In the post-game press conferences after losing to the Hawks, 76ers center Joel Embiid pointed out a very particular play at the end of the game as a big reason for why they lost. The play involved Simmons passing up an open shot at the rim to a cutting Tobias Harris who was fouled and made one of two free throws.

Had Simmons just made the layup, it could have been a game-changing field goal. Also, Rivers was asked whether or not Simmons can be a point guard to a championship team, and Doc’s response was, “I don’t know the answer to that.” Yikes.

When a head coach shows that kind of wavering confidence in a player as good as Ben Simmons, that is a bad sign.

People thought Embiid and Simmons were a great fit. Simmons can’t shoot, and Embiid can space the floor, so it works out. While this makes sense, Embiid also should not be limited to a spot-up shooter just for Simmons. Everyone knows Embiid is best in the post, and the space on the block becomes limited when Simmons’ man is dropping down to help.

It’s a complicated situation in Philly, and it is mostly because of one player. Embiid released a statement saying “I gave everything I had,” which can be taken as a shot at Simmons as well.

If Embiid is doing all he can and it is not enough, who is next in line to look at that clearly has flaws in his game? This season could definitely have been the last for Simmons in Philadelphia, but only time and the offseason will tell.

Simmons will not be competing for Australia in the Tokyo Olympics this summer in order to work on “skills development.” This came as no surprise, as Simmons is expected to lay low for a while until a decision on his status with the Sixers is officially made.

The proof is in the pudding with this one. While a player should not be labeled as bad because of one or two off-putting playoff runs, it is becoming more and more glaring that there is a serious problem with Simmons that needs to be dealt with in the nearby future.