Ben Simmons said on Sunday night following the Sixers' Game 7 loss to the Hawks that there’s “a lot of things” he needs to work on.
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers agrees, and he thinks the team's game plan for Simmons’ offseason has a good chance to be fruitful.
According to Rivers, he had a “very good sit-down” with Simmons on Monday and will meet with the three-time All-Star again in a week.
“I know exactly what we want to do,” Rivers said. “I’m positive in Ben. I’m very bullish on Ben still, but there’s work. There is. And Ben will be willing to do it, and that’s the key. Sometimes you have to go through stuff to see it and be honest with it. Obviously what Ben just went through, I can’t imagine that, because he has so much greatness around him in all the things that he does.
“And there’s areas that he can fix quickly, in my opinion, and get better, and that will get him to another level. Sometimes you don’t know why you’re in different places. You know what I mean? But this may be one of them. I look at this as a great challenge, but definitely a doable one.”
ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported on Monday that Simmons is doubtful to play for Australia in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and intends to focus on skill development.
Since his rookie season, questions have swirled around how well Simmons’ unique game would work in the playoffs, his skill and willingness as a shooter, and whether he could be a star on a championship team. As Rivers acknowledged Sunday, the answers are now uncertain at best.
From the Sixers’ perspective, one way to resolve things after Simmons in Games 5 through 7 averaged 6.3 points on 42.9 percent shooting from the field and 35.0 percent shooting at the foul line is to trade him. Deals don’t happen in the NBA with a snap of the finger, though. Simmons has four years left on the rookie maximum extension that began this season.
At least for Rivers, there likely is no purpose in thinking beyond the summer with Simmons. For three consecutive seasons, Simmons has easily led all players classified as point guards in frequency of attempts at the rim, per Cleaning the Glass. That he’s able to get there is great, but his lack of offensive expansion is not.
Even if three-point shooting is a novelty for Simmons his whole career, it’s apparent free throws are essential.
“I think you’ll wait and see,” Rivers said. “I think some of the stuff is obvious. We’re not hiding that Ben has to become a better free throw shooter and a more confident free throw shooter. If that happens, I really believe a lot of other parts of his game follow.
“I said that, if you remember, before the season started. The first thing I said is, ‘We’ve got to get him to the line 10 times a night, and to want to get to the line 10 times a night.’ And so we’ve got to put in the work so he can get there. If we can get him there, man, his game goes to a different level.”
This isn’t the first time the Sixers have expressed optimism about Simmons’ ability to make offseason progress. The end product will tell its own story.
“I believe — without going into detail about what we’re doing — I believe we know what the right work is, and the right type of work and the right way to do it,” Rivers said. “You can do the work all the time, but if it’s not done in the right way and the right type of work, you may not improve.
“After being here for a year, I really do believe we’ve identified what and how, and now … we have to work to do it. It’s not going to be an easy job, but it’s definitely a job that Ben can do. And I believe that.”