Most fans of the NBA have been aware of the Book on Ben Simmons for the last two seasons. An exceedingly talented player with seemingly limitless potential, but with a hole in his offensive game about the size of the Grand Canyon, one so big it could be seen from space.
He refused to attempt a shot outside the paint.
This was not a new development. So much so, that in the rare occurrence that Simmons made a three-pointer, it was a seismic event, one that rippled not just throughout the Delaware Valley but globally. Something that occurs thousands of other times league-wide was celebrated like Simmons fed 20,000 hungry fans using only five hoagie rolls and two slices of Lorenzo’s Pizza.
The team was patient. Brett Brown was so patient it cost him his job. The fans were largely patient, which, for Philadelphia sports fans, is nothing short of miraculous. All willing to look past a player with half a skill set because of the possibility he would somehow, someday start doing something that is a natural act for every other player in the history of the NBA.
Simmons was unwilling to do the simplest of basketball tasks.
So why didn’t the Sixers see this coming?
Why didn’t a team who scouted Simmons, saw him play virtually every day since he was 18, a team that evaluates every player game-by-game, not see this trend forming?
If the cause is a physical one, connect him with a shooting coach. If the cause is mental, get him the help he needs. Instead, they doubled down, handing the flawed Simmons a five-year, $170 million contract.
Not even Doc Rivers, a head coach with a reputation to get the most out of his players, could get Simmons to shoot. And when asked about Simmons by reporters, Rivers castigated them, accusing them of not knowing the game by pointing out what is intuitively obvious to even the most casual observer.
In a league where analytics is increasingly employed every season, you only need to look as far as Simmons’ shot chart to see significant regression at the offensive end of the floor.
In his rookie season, Simmons took 218 field goal attempts that would qualify as mid-range— beginning 10 feet from the basket and going out to the three-point line — in 91 games, counting the postseason.
The following season, he also played a total of 91 games — and took 99 shots from that same range. In 2019-2020, he took a total of 30 mid-range shots in 57 games. If that’s not a red flag, you’re colorblind.
This past season, he got a bit more adventurous, taking 44 mid-range shots in 70 total games, but that still works out to one about every other game, which is laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.
Add it up: 218 mid-range attempts in 91 games his rookie season, 173 in three seasons since. And no one in the front office batted an eyelash until now.
If an NBA team employs a player that’s unable to do something, that player doesn’t stay very long. Unable and unwilling are different situations, but the result is the same. The job doesn’t get done. The Sixers were blinded by Simmons’ potential for two seasons, and it could cost them dearly.