The Atlanta Hawks eliminated the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night. It was an incredible accomplishment for the Hawks who went 20-47 last season and were not even invited to Orlando. However, the big story this morning is Ben Simmons, the 76ers, and specifically, what the hell happens there.
Simmons is broken. We've known there was something wrong for a while now, but his problems are too glaring to ignore and too serious for the Sixers - or any team - to think they can win a title with him. He's clearly lost the Sixers locker room with the coach and best player giving honest assessments after the game. First with Joel Embiid pointing to Simmons passing up a dunk as the turning point of the game.
Then with Doc Rivers saying he doesn't know if Simmons can be the point guard on a championship team.
There were always questions about whether Simmons and Embiid could play together, but that was about fit. There doesn't seem to be any fit for Simmons right now. With a bad shooter you can work on his shot. Simmons won't shoot. It's like he needs a sports psychologist. Simmons is like basketball's Chuck Knoblauch, only if Knoblauch made it to the majors without ever even attempting to throw the ball to first.
Can Simmons be saved? Can another coach unlock his potential? Who knows. He's only 24 (25 next month.). He's still a good defender and passer. He's still tall! He should probably become striclty a post player. A couple decades ago he and Embiid would just be twin towers. And with Embiid's ability to shoot you would think they do almost fit together.
It's just that Simmons' inability to even attempt a shot is crippling in a playoff situation. During the regular season he can get in the open court and be a fun offensive player. But the minute the other team decides to start fouling him and forcing him to do things in the half-court that he isn't even comfortable thinking about the team falters.
And yet they were a single win from the Eastern Conference Finals. Just like they were in 2019 when they lost in Game 7 to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors. The Sixers have been pretty damn close with Simmons. Last year, when he was inactive against the Celtics and Philly got swept in the Bubble.
Simmons is hard to wrap your head around. How can he not shoot? We've seen guys be scared of taking shots in big moments. We've seen guys pass up open shots. We've seen bad shooters before. We've seen guys go cold or take ill-advised shots and kill a team. Blaming those performances feels natural. Not that anyone has trouble blaming Simmons here, but he clearly has an actual issue.
Simmons' entire goal in basketball should be to become Giannis Antetokounmpo or Shaquille O'Neal in the half-court. A pretty high bar, but he either needs to become dominant down low like Shaq or find the courage to take some outside shots like Giannis. Shaq was a horrible free throw shooter who was never asked to stretch the floor and Giannis has committed to shooting a few three-pointers a game to keep people honest.
Simmons doesn't need to be a good shooter. He just needs to take shots. He cannot under any circumstances pass up wide-open dunks. That pass that Embiid was talking about was inexcusable. It's the kind of play that makes you think Simmons' problems are only getting worse. Refusing to shoot threes is one thing, but not wanting to even attempt a layup makes no sense. That's the action of a broken player. And it's unclear how to fix it.