Why we shouldn't expect Ben Simmons to be a 'crunch-time scorer' yet

Why we shouldn't expect Ben Simmons to be a 'crunch-time scorer' yet

In the first few minutes of a game, Ben Simmons so frequently looks like the best player on the floor. He sometimes is for the duration of the game, too, but especially so during that opening burst when he tends to barrel at the rim and make a loud, early imprint.

Over the Sixers’ last three contests, he’s scored six of the team’s first nine points, eight of its first 17, and 10 of its first 18, respectively. 

However, as NBC Sports national NBA insider Tom Haberstroh notes, Simmons’ usage has plummeted in fourth quarters. He has just a 15.4 usage rate in the fourth this season.

Haberstroh posits that, during the time Joel Embiid is sidelined after having surgery for a torn ligament in his left hand, the Sixers should “make Simmons a crunch-time scorer.”

The idea that Simmons should sustain his early aggressive mindset is certainly fair, and it seems hard to dispute.

The belief that he has the ability to be quite as effective late in fourth quarters, though, is a bit optimistic. His obvious limitations as a shooter allow defenses to play off him in the half court. The Sixers have been employing Simmons more as a screener when Josh Richardson or Tobias Harris are handling the ball, which has been promising. On Wednesday vs. the Nets, Brett Brown also encouraged Simmons to drive and quickly evaporate the open space the Nets were giving him. He called plenty of “12,” an action that begins with a wing coming up from the baseline to either set a ball screen for Simmons or take a handoff. Furkan Korkmaz got several good looks out of the action and scored nine points in the fourth quarter.

Though Simmons only had five of his 20 points against Brooklyn after halftime, the Sixers were at least able to put him in some impactful positions. It helped that Harris was tremendous in the fourth, too, hitting a string of tough, game-clinching shots and finishing with 34 points.

Brown admitted he had some regrets when asked before Wednesday's game about Simmons’ following up a 20-point first half Monday against the Pacers with a four-point second half. 

If you got to the fourth period — because I will own the large majority of it in the third period — we played through J-Rich and he had it rolling. … I think in the third period I could have posted him more. I could have gotten him the ball more. Did I think that he shied away from anything? I did not. He was running some play calls that I asked him to run and in the light of day, probably I could have gotten him the ball more. 

Another clear reason why Simmons might be limited late in games even if he adopts an attacking mentality is his poor free throw shooting. After a 2-for-7 performance Wednesday, he’s hitting 58.2 percent of his foul shots this year. He also hasn’t increased his free throw volume the way Brown said he hoped he would on Dec. 7.

On that night — on which Brown famously proclaimed that he wanted “a three-point shot a game, minimum" — he also said he wanted Simmons attempting eight free throws per game. He’s averaging 4.6 this year, 5.1 since that statement. 

The bright spot for Simmons is that he’s made 10 of 13 “clutch” free throws this season, generally responding well when teams have turned to a “Hack-a-Simmons” strategy. 

Like any team, the Sixers would love to have a diverse, dangerous array of late-game scoring options. But, if we’re being realistic, their fourth-quarter offense will likely run through Embiid when he returns, as it did before his injury. Richardson and Harris have also shown that they can create and make shots in crunch time.

Simmons should be be a more prominent figure than he is currently, but his value will likely stem more from his passing, screening and rolling, and ability to spark offense in the open floor as a result of elite defense than from his scoring.

As Haberstroh writes, the Sixers can find ways to develop while their All-Star big man is out. Maybe Simmons’ confidence in late-game situations will improve while Embiid is away, but he likely won’t be who the team centers its late-game offense around in the playoffs. He shouldn’t be, either. 

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Brett Brown responds to Glenn Robinson III's comments: 'This is a show me league'

Brett Brown responds to Glenn Robinson III's comments: 'This is a show me league'

Glenn Robinson III had some concerning remarks about his role in an interview with Basketball Insiders. The veteran wing said that it was “not really explained” and that he doesn’t “really understand it.”

In Brett Brown’s pregame availability before the Sixers’ home game against the Knicks, the head coach responded to Robinson’s comments.

“About six seconds before I came out here, we spoke and I did see that quote. ... And that is not true. With all of our players, you sit down and you go through this clearly. After All-Star break, every single one of them got a roadmap — this is your role, this is what we expect.”

Speaking to reporters in the locker room before the game, Robinson did get the chance to add clarity to what he said.

"I think some of it got a little blown out of proportion, but it was just really like figuring out my role here," he said. "What did I get brought here to do? How can I help this team? I understand that both me and [Alec Burks], we were brought here to help this team win and that's what it's about."

When Robinson was brought in along with Burks from the Golden State Warriors, they both seemed to have clear roles. Burks would provide a scoring punch off the bench while Robinson provided an ideal 3-and-D wing.

That hasn’t exactly come to fruition. We’ve seen flashes of what Burks can do — especially in the Sixers’ overtime win over Brooklyn — but Robinson has struggled since a strong debut. He’s 0 of 9 from three and hasn’t made the defensive impact the team was hoping for.

Both players were in the midst of career years on expiring deals, meaning a possible lucrative free agency payday was on the horizon. Brown gets all that goes into a midseason trade but needs Robinson to provide what the head coach believes he can.

“I get when you have a career year on a poor team and it's a contract year, I understand it. I coached those years myself,” Brown said. “And so in the middle of all of it, he's good people. He's a good person and he's trying to figure out what his next step is while coexisting in a team framework. …

“I think that he has an important role to play here. We hope to see more of it. But as I said to him, and I'll say it again, this is a show me league and here it is, and this is what we expect and hope to see. And from time to time, we have seen that. I think that he is a league keeper.”

Down All-Stars Ben Simmons (lower back impingement) and Joel Embiid (left shoulder sprain), there should be plenty of minutes up for grabs. Robinson should get a closer look while in the starting lineup Wednesday.

After talking with Brown, does Robinson have a clearer picture of his role?

"I'm just really at that wing spot just competing every night and playing hard and really just letting him figure that out, and I just control what I can control on my end."

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Glenn Robinson III on his role with the Sixers: ‘I don’t really understand it’

Glenn Robinson III on his role with the Sixers: ‘I don’t really understand it’

Updated, 6:54 p.m.: On Monday night, Brett Brown responded to Robinson III's comments about his role, while Robinson had a chance to clarify how he feels about his place on the team (see story).

Glenn Robinson III was having by far the best season of his NBA career, starting for the Warriors, averaging 12.9 points per game and shooting 40 percent from three-point range.

Then he was traded to the Sixers.

Since being acquired by the Sixers along with Alec Burks, Robinson has started two games, come off the bench in four and missed all nine of his three-point attempts.

In an interview with Basketball Insiders’ Spencer Davies, he did not sound pleased with his situation.

Even when (Golden State) played Philly, I showed them what I could do,” Robinson told Davies. “So to play those consistent minutes a night and perform well … that’s the most disappointing part about coming here is that — both of us (are) coming off career years where we’re looking at hopefully big numbers after the season. I know I’ve got a family to feed. So you think about all those things.

“All those things play a role, and then when you come here and your role’s not really explained or you don’t know what’s going on with the trade — it’s not like it was a trade where you come in and immediately have an impact. It’s a little different, so … this team is full of wings, full of guys who can play. So really, I don’t really understand it. But it’s a business, you’ve got to make it happen and go out and try to do your best every night.

Though the Sixers have actually gone 4-2 with Robinson, the team has been in a state of constant change since acquiring him and Burks. Since Robinson has joined, the Sixers have used five different starting lineups. They’ll have to use a sixth Thursday night vs. the Knicks with Joel Embiid out because of a left shoulder sprain. Ben Simmons will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks with nerve impingement in his lower back. 

Robinson had a promising first game after the trade, scoring 10 points on 5 for 6 shooting against the Bulls and moving sharply off the ball, but it’s certainly true that Brett Brown has yet to find a clear role for him.

Last Friday, Robinson talked about the adjustment of moving in the middle of the season. 

“It’s always different,” he said. “You come into a new team and there’s new plays, new personnel. I think that they’ve came it pretty simple when both AB and I have been on the court. Like I said, it’s always different and you kind of learn on the fly and adjust. But teammates have been great, kind of telling us where to be and what to do during the games.”

The 26-year-old is in his second stint with Brown and the Sixers after playing 10 games in Philadelphia his rookie season. 

He still expressed some optimism to Davies that the team can turn the season around. 

“A lot of talent. I think we can go as far as we stick together and want to go,” Robinson told Davies. “We’ve just got a lot of great players and they know how to play the game. That’s the biggest thing, so as long as we can stick together, come together … it’s about defense for this group. We’ve got all the talent in the world to score. I think that we’ve got high chances.”

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