The NBA Report: The Ben Simmons conundrum


Last week, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, widely considered a premier source for NBA news, reported that All-Star Ben Simmons plans to never play another game for the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Later in the week, Shams Charania, another reputable source, reported that some of Simmons’ teammates were prepared to fly to Los Angeles to sit down with the disgruntled star and convince him to stay.

Simmons reportedly told them not to board the plane. His stance was not going to change.

This wasn’t necessarily ‘new’ news—the consensus around the league has long been that Simmons would like to find a new home. But the effect of hearing it from Wojnarowski and Charania has trained an even brighter spotlight on the severity of the situation.

Now, the Sixers’ front office finds itself in quite the predicament.

For those who don’t follow the NBA, (and I do hope this column holds some value for those uninterested in the sport) Simmons is a unicorn of a player.

He is a 6-foot-10-inch point guard (most players at the position range from 6-foot-1-inch to 6-foot-3-inches) and he possesses otherworldly passing and defensive abilities. 

In his career, Simmons has averaged 15.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game. He has been named an All-Star and led his team to the playoffs in three out of his four seasons. 

Given Simmons’ impressive pedigree early in his career, one would assume that rival teams would be eager to acquire him from Philadelphia. A young, play-making point guard, in the body of a forward with Defensive Player of the Year level talent, who would say no?

Here’s the catch, though — Simmons can’t shoot. He’s a left-handed shooter who should switch to his right hand and is visibly uncomfortable when shooting jump shots or free throws.

In the 2021 season, Simmons shot 30 percent from the three-point line. Not great for his position, but certainly serviceable. 

The fact that he only took 10 three-pointers all season is not serviceable.

To put his three-point shooting volume into perspective, here are the 3-point attempt numbers from some other top point guards in the 2021 season:

Stephen Curry: 801 threes taken. 

Damian Lillard: 704 threes taken.

Kyrie Irving: 378 threes taken. 

De’Aaron Fox: 320 threes taken.

Chris Paul: 258 threes taken.

These are just a few examples, but you get the point.

Simmons doesn’t need to increase his volume to the level of any of the players mentioned above, (in fact, he should not) but he certainly needs to be shooting more three-pointers in a season than some of his contemporaries shoot in a single game. 

His inability to at least provide a threat from deep range inhibits the Sixers’ offensive scheme. Knowing his shooting struggles, Simmons’ defenders can afford to give him space and double-team one of his teammates.

Simmons’ shooting struggles are so severe that they overshadow the rest of his undeniable skills and even contributed to losing a playoff series this summer.

In game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Sixers were trading haymakers with the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter. Atlanta was up by two points with 3:30 left on the game clock. 

Simmons had the ball in the high post where he was backing down Danillo Gallinari. With the ball in his left hand, he spun towards the baseline, creating a wide-open dunk attempt for himself. Inexplicably, he quickly passed the ball to his teammate Matisse Thybulle, who was fouled at the rim.

Thybulle went one of two from the free-throw line, and the game seemed to be over. Atlanta smelled the blood in the water. 

Now, Simmons wants out of Philadelphia and there does not seem to be a path forward that would end well for the organization. 

Philadelphia has a few options. First, they could begin training camp with Simmons on the roster. He won’t report to camp and would face potential fines. In this case, the Sixers would have a $33 million dollar roster allocation, contributing nothing to the team.

Second, the Sixers could move Simmons to another team. This is the trickiest option due to the limited amount of leverage the Sixers now have in negotiations. 

Every other team in the league is acutely aware of Simmons’ stance on staying with the Sixers. They know the turbulence of the situation, which decreases Simmons’ value by the day.

If trading partners know that a split would be beneficial for both Simmons and the Sixers, they are not obligated to offer as much for Simmons as he would normally be worth. 

As Simmons’ asking price continues to drop, the Sixers’ front office is probably kicking themselves over for not trading him this summer when his value was higher. 

Now, assuming that Simmons sticks to his word and refuses to play, Philadelphia can either deal him for a package which would likely leave the team worse off or go into the season with a negative asset costing them millions. 

Either way, the Simmons saga is another case that poses interesting questions about the era of player empowerment. It certainly won’t be the last case of a star deleveraging the organization for which they play, creating a messy situation for all parties. 

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