There’s a stark contrast between Ben Simmons’ production in his 11 games since the All-Star break and the 11 games that preceded it.
Following a seven-point, four-assist performance Sunday night in the Sixers’ 116-100 loss to the Grizzlies, Simmons has averaged 12.9 points and 6.2 assists after the break, shooting 45.5 percent from the floor and 54.4 percent from the foul line. Per Cleaning the Glass, he has a 1.09 assist-to-usage ratio and a 20.1 turnover percentage during that time, the worst of any player classified as a point guard.
How about the 11 games he played before the break? Simmons posted 20.9 points and 7.0 assists per contest, making 63.4 percent of his field goals and 72.1 percent of his free throws. He had a 1.20 assist-to-usage ratio and 14.2 turnover percentage during that stretch, according to Cleaning the Glass.
Head coach Doc Rivers is not concerned about Simmons’ scoring.
“No,” he said Sunday night. “I think Ben’s a facilitator, and I think that’s what he does. I thought he did great early on, and after that I thought they all got tired. As the game went on, less and less driving happened. I think you guys are way more concerned about Ben’s scoring than I am. I think Ben does so many things for this team to help us win. Scoring, I’m just telling you, is the least thing that I’m concerned about.”
Rivers generally hasn’t deviated from that stance about Simmons, although he did say he thought the 24-year-old was healthy and needed to play better last Tuesday night. Simmons missed the Sixers’ March 20 game vs. the Kings with left knee soreness and had surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee last August, which is why the health question was fair to ask.
For the most part, though, Rivers has publicly praised Simmons for many valuable qualities outside of scoring — elite defense, screening and cutting, passing to three-point shooters. It’s all been valid, and it’s of course resonated most when the Sixers have won despite Simmons not taking jump shots and not putting up a ton of points.
It didn’t sound like Rivers thought a deep analysis of Sunday’s game was necessary. With Joel Embiid sitting on the second half of a back-to-back as he eases back into action after a left knee bone bruise, Tobias Harris was the Sixers’ only starter who scored in double figures. Memphis extinguished any hopes of a Sixers win with a 45-point third quarter.
The larger trend for Simmons obviously isn’t a good one, though. His scoring has dropped, yes, but it’s also significant that his efficiency has plummeted. A silver lining is that he’s only had four turnovers over the last three games. Rivers and assistant coach Sam Cassell continue to work on sharpening Simmons’ transition decision-making.
“Of course that’s a point of emphasis,” Rivers said Saturday night. “When you have seven (in three out of four games) … overall, I thought he really did some good things in transition. That’s what we’re working on — because that’s where a lot of those turnovers come from. He has to read when there’s gaps and when there’s not. When there’s not, attack to create. When there's gaps, attack to score. And that’s what we spend a lot of time with him on, on film. I thought he did that pretty well today.”
For those outside of the Sixers locker room, that comment was a helpful illustration of how Rivers is not satisfied with Simmons simply being who he is. There are and always have been areas in which Simmons can be better besides shooting and scoring, and they’re worth addressing.
The same is true for the 34-16 Sixers before they begin another road trip Tuesday against the Celtics.
“I thought it was ugly, and I don’t think we really want to look at the film and relive this game today,” Dwight Howard said. “We saw a lot of areas that we have to improve in. Obviously we don’t want to lose the way we did tonight. But we’ve got to let this one go and get ready for Boston. They’re an Eastern Conference team that we could see later on, down the line in the playoffs, so we’ve got to put our sights on Boston right now.”
The Sixers have 22 games left before the playoffs. Rivers might feel concern about Simmons' scoring is misplaced, but we assume nobody on the Sixers would mind if he started doing more of it while also recapturing everything else positive from his pre-All-Star stretch.