The Ben Simmons debate in Philadelphia has always been a divisive one. You either love ’em, or you hate ’em. That’s typically how most sports debates unfold in this town (i.e. Carson Wentz), but in Simmons’ case, there should be a clear distinction between understanding the value he brings to the floor and understanding that he has some obvious flaws in his game.
But as we all know, discussing Simmons with nearly any Sixers fan you’ll inevitably reach the point where you’re arguing about why he should or shouldn’t be forced to shoot the ball more.
If you’ve been a fan of The Process throughout the past 4-5 years, if you’ve watched Simmons develop as an NBA player during that time, and you still can’t recognize how prolific Simmons is in nearly every area outside of shooting, at this point, you’ll just never understand the kind of value Simmons brings to this team.
All this Simmons chatter cropped up again after the Sixers’ Game 1 victory over Washington on Sunday. Philly’s Big 3 all showed out. Tobias Harris had a playoff career high in points, Joel Embiid carried the offense down the stretch after getting in foul trouble early, and Simmons became the first 76er with at least 15 assists and rebounds in a game since Wilt Chamberlain in 1968. He’s also the seventh player in NBA history to reach that mark in a postseason game.
But as some fans were quick to point out, Simmons wasn’t perfect. He scored just six points and went 0-for-6 from the free throw line. It was the first time in 14 years an NBA player attempted at least six foul shots in a playoff game and missed all of them.
Simmons obviously needs to be better from the free throw line, I don’t think anyone would dispute that. He shot 53.3 percent from the foul line after the All-Star break, after shooting 67.1 percent before the break. No one wants to see that kind of regression, especially for someone who’s offensive arsenal is best utilized when driving to the bucket and initiating contact.
As for the six total points in the game, it’s not like those points alone were Simmons’ only offensive contributions. He had 15 total assists and assisted on five of the Sixers 10 three-pointers.
Simmons was also the best defender on the floor Sunday afternoon, guarding Washington’s top threats, Bradley Beal and Russel Westbrook for the majority of the contest. Although Beal finished with 33 points, only two of them came when he was guarded by Simmons. Beal went 1-for-6 from the field and committed three turnovers when Simmons was on him.
“It’s funny, I thought he was special (today),” Doc Rivers said following his team’s 125-118 victory over Washington. “Whoever he guarded struggled scoring. He created so many points for us tonight — off the glass to three; off transition to three; creating switches that they didn’t want to have. He’s a treasure. He’s something that you don’t see a lot in this league, and he has such a skill set that is so different. There’s a lot of people that can’t make what of him. All I see is greatness in him, and I just want him to keep doing what he’s doing.”
Truth be told, the Sixers don’t win Sunday’s game against the Wizards without Simmons on the floor. The Sixers don’t have the No. 1 seed in the East without Simmons. The Sixers don’t have the second-best defensive rating in basketball without Simmons. I think you get the point.
Just because Simmons doesn’t fit into the prototypical point guard archetype, that doesn’t mean he isn’t a winning basketball player. His impact on the game — from rebounding, dishing out assists, to manning up against the best offensive threats — helps everyone else on the floor.
And the great thing is, he’s only 24 years old and has already cemented himself as a perennial All-Star. There’s a lot of room for growth and Ben has time on his side.
If Ben continues to play like he did Sunday throughout the rest of this series, Washington won’t get past four games.