The NBA playoffs are where legends are born, and it’s also where frauds are exposed. Ben Simmons may not quite be in fraudulent territory, but the luster on his star is fading by the half right now for the Philadelphia 76ers.
He’s become a complete liability on the offensive end, shriveling under the bright lights on the big stage. In Game 5 on Wednesday night, the Sixers led by 23 points halfway through the second quarter. Atlanta Hawks head coach Nate McMillan made the decision to start hacking Simmons, sending him to the free-throw line immediately and forcing him to be the entirety of the Sixers’ offense.
Ben Simmons has shriveled up in the biggest moments in these NBA playoffs too many times for the Sixers. They can’t survive more of this from him.
Simmons isn’t a good free-throw shooter by any means, but he did shoot 61.3 percent in the regular season. This is not the regular season, however, and somehow his free-throw shooting knows it.
In the 2020-21 NBA playoffs, he’s shooting 32.8 percent from the charity stripe. It’s a preposterously poor rate, and it makes sending him to the line at every possible opportunity an easy decision. It ended up working out for McMillan and the Hawks, even though they weren’t able to quickly chop into the big Sixers lead right away.
Simmons went 2-of-8 in the second quarter, and the Sixers managed to hold their lead. Getting sent to the line over and over seems to have worn him down mentally and emotionally, however, because he completely disappeared in the second half. Rather than risk being sent to the free throw line, he shied away from the action on the offensive end.
In the final two quarters against the Hawks, Ben Simmons took one field goal attempt. He missed it. He also went 2-of-6 from the free-throw line in the second half.
It’s not fair to pin all of the Philadelphia 76ers’ struggles on Simmons, mind you. Joel Embiid and Seth Curry were the only Sixers to actually hit field goal attempts in the second half, which is unbelievable for a team with championship aspirations.
Besides Embiid and Curry, the rest of the Sixers combined to miss all 11 of their field goal attempts and score a combined six points en route to a 109-106 loss to the Hawks.
While this team needs more from Tobias Harris, George Hill and the rest of their roster, Ben Simmons is supposed to be the co-star of The Process with Joel Embiid. If Embiid is the best player on the team (and he clearly is), Simmons is supposed to be Best Player 1B, and there’s no context or excuse to allow for one field goal attempt in the pivotal fifth game of a playoff series.
President of basketball operations Daryl Morey isn’t married to the idea of keeping Simmons if he believes he has better options. He didn’t draft Simmons, and his very presence may be incongruent with a championship-level team, considering his glaring weaknesses. After striking out on the James Harden sweepstakes earlier this season in a proposed deal that would have included Simmons, Morey resolved to let the year play out and see how things went.
Now we know. Simmons refuses to shoot the ball, can’t shoot free-throws in games that mean anything, is scared to touch the ball if he might have to shoot free-throws, and is absolutely adamant about not expanding his offensive game in any way. Maybe that would fly under previous Sixers regimes, but not for Daryl Morey, especially with Joel Embiid now 27 and not getting any younger or healthier.
If this season was the Ben Simmons Experiment, Morey has the results. Whether the Philadelphia 76ers come back and win this series against the Atlanta Hawks or not, look for Simmons to be moved in the coming offseason.