Sixers can’t win it all until Ben Simmons gives us more

Sixers can’t win it all until Ben Simmons gives us more

Ben Simmons is a very good basketball player. This is an indisputable fact. Great? Nope. A star? Sorry. Transcendent? Laughable.

Simmons is a man of many talents on the basketball court. He’s among the fastest players in recent memory baseline-to-baseline with the basketball. Court vision is near the top of the league. His defense is among the best in the game. He’s a willing and active rebounder. But Simmons has one thing that is holding him back from being great. And that one thing is Ben Simmons.

Brett Brown and his assistants have beaten their heads against the wall for three seasons, trying to coax a jump shot out of their point guard, with minimal results. We see him at practice and pregame shootaround, knocking down outside shots like it’s his job. So why don’t we see it during games?

Is it because Simmons doesn’t think he can make the shot? Can’t be. He’s as confident as any player in the league with the ball in his hands. Some believe it’s because he’s afraid of looking bad, that his mid-range game is not his strongest suit. But it’s hampering his game, and, moreover, his unwillingness to assert himself is hurting his team late in games.

Nobody concentrated on it when he was cooking NBA players in the open court as a rookie, running roughshod through the best the league had to offer. We didn’t really think much about the fact that his shot chart looked like a game of Nerfhoop we played in our bedroom when we were nine years old: dunks and lay-ups only. No sign of a mid-range game, let alone a three-pointer. 

Over this past summer, Simmons teased fans with videos from open runs in Los Angeles, drilling mid-range Js and threes from every angle. Visions of a parade danced in their heads. Could this be the year?

He said all the right things. This quote from Simmons to the Associated Press in late September reads like he was ready to go next-level:

“I feel like this summer I fell in love with the game again. I kind of got back to who I was and having fun with the game … I’ve been in the gym every day working and the results have been paying off so I’m excited for the season to start.”

Terrific. Maybe he could fall in love with an 18-footer?

He toyed with us when he dropped a three in the preseason opener against a Chinese league team. In the regular season? He’s played in 39 games and taken 30 shots from more than 10 feet from the basket, making seven (23.3 percent). 

After Simmons made his second (and most recent) three of the season in a 34-point night against Cleveland on Dec. 7, Brown made public what he has certainly shared with Simmons ad nauseum in private: “I want a three-point a shot a game, minimum.”

Maybe Simmons misheard. In the 18 games since, he’s taken one 3-pointer, period.

The NBA is a game of adjustments. The league figures out what your team does well and tries to take it away from you. We’ve seen, time and time again, teams wall off Simmons at the free throw line, knowing he won’t shoot a pull-up jumper. Heck, Celtics fans made a T-shirt out of it

With the ball in his hands, Simmons is a force. But as the Sixers “walk down the game,” as they say, teams work to get the ball out of his hands. Once they achieve that, Simmons is largely a spectator, content to set screens or hang in the “dunker” spot while his teammates play 4-on-5. In the Sixers' last two games, losses to the Mavericks and Pacers, Simmons went a combined 0 for 4 for zero points in the fourth quarter.

The man’s game has no ceiling, if he’s willing to embrace the game. The answer lies within Simmons, and until he’s willing to give all of himself on the court, he, and the Sixers, are doomed to second-round playoff exits. Which is exactly where the team began The Process.

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2020 NBA return plan: Adam Silver says NBA is in '1st inning,' explains COVID-19 precautions

2020 NBA return plan: Adam Silver says NBA is in '1st inning,' explains COVID-19 precautions

In an appearance Thursday night on "The NBA on TNT," commissioner Adam Silver emphasized that the NBA still has several important concerns it must address before resuming the 2019-20 season.

While the NBA’s Board of Governors approved a 22-team plan to finish the season at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, beginning on July 31, Silver framed that vote as the first of many steps.

“It’s been a very difficult process,” he said. “And I should say, to mix sporting metaphors, we’ve got a long way to go here. We’re really in the equivalent of the first inning.” 

Silver explained why the NBA felt comfortable proposing a plan now after first suspending the season on March 11, when Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus.

“Of course we’ve always been looking for whether or not there is an appropriate and safe way that we can resume basketball,” Silver said, “and knowing that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while. … We’ve been exploring with the players whether there can be a new normal here.”

He singled out Hornets chairman Michael Jordan as an advocate for maintaining as typical a conclusion to the season as possible. The 22-team plan includes eight “seeding games” and the possibility of a play-in tournament if the eighth and ninth seeds finish within four games of each other. The postseason, however, would follow a traditional format, with 16 teams and four best-of-seven series to determine a champion.

Jordan “felt it was very important, after we established the 16 teams, to not be gimmicky,” Silver said. 

What’s next for the NBA? First, the league must secure approval from the National Basketball Players Association. The NBPA is set to meet Friday, according to The New York Times’ Marc Stein, and it sounds like the Players Association may have reservations about certain aspects of the league’s plan. NBPA executive director Michele Roberts told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski she was “surprised” to see a tentative date of Nov. 10 to start training camps for the 2020-21 season. Oct. 12 would be the last possible date for Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals under the owners-approved plan.

“We’ve had extensive discussions with the Players Association,” Silver said, “but we haven’t finished those negotiations.”

Silver outlined some of the precautions the league might enact to minimize coronavirus-related risk, but he acknowledged there are still unanswered questions. He said players would need to maintain physical distancing protocols, even when away from the court. There may also be more stringent safety measures for older coaches and personnel more susceptible to COVID-19. 

“Obviously the most significant changes from when we shut down are we’re playing without fans, we’re playing in a central location, we’re playing on a campus where the players are going to remain there throughout the competition,” he said. “The players are going to be tested … most likely daily.”

“… Certain coaches may not have to be the bench coach. They may have to maintain social distancing protocols … but when it comes to actual play, we may not want them that close to players, in order to protect (the coaches). Those are all issues we’re working through.”

If the NBA does ultimately travel to Disney World, what are the contingencies if players, coaches or other team staffers test positive for the coronavirus? When asked specifically by Charles Barkley if a positive test in the playoffs would force a team to withdraw, Silver said, “we don’t believe we would need to.”

He said the league’s current belief, based on discussions with NBA health consultants and public health officials in Florida, is that it would be possible to contain a player, trace his contacts and allow a team to proceed because of daily testing. 

That’s one question of many Silver seems aware he’ll need a satisfactory response for if the NBA is indeed going to proceed with this season under very unusual circumstances. 

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Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant randomly bought a minority stake in the Philadelphia Union

USA Today Sports Images/MLS.com

Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant randomly bought a minority stake in the Philadelphia Union

Strange but true: Kevin Durant now owns (part of) the Philadelphia Union.

The NBA megastar reportedly purchased a minority stake in Philly's pro soccer team this week, according to the Sports Business Journal, worth somewhere between 1% and 5%.

Whether Durant purchased the stake himself, or through his Thirty Five Ventures umbrella company, is unclear, according to the SBJ.

Durant was seen meeting with Union ownership this past December, raising eyebrows after the Maryland native tried on more than one occassion to buy a stake in the MLS's D.C. United, according to the SBJ.

I'll say it: Durant buying a stake in the Union feels ... super random? 

Trying to buy a stake in D.C. United makes plenty of sense for Durant. He's very proud of his DMV upbringing, so latching on to the local soccer team, in a league that still has plenty of room to grow, is a smart business move with explainable roots.

But Durant opting for the Union, after being turned down by United, is just odd. (Of course, he's no stranger to opting for an easier path.)

Durant joins former teammate and Houston Rockets guard James Harden among the MLS's notable NBA athlete minority owners. Harden holds a minority stake in the league's Houston Dynamo, along with the NWSL's Houston Dash. 

I wonder if we'll see Durant hanging around Chester real casual, before heading over to the newly-named Subaru Park.

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