SIXERS

Why Stephen A.'s latest Simmons critique isn't wrong

SIXERS

Will we ever reach the end of The Ben Simmons Conversation? And do we even want to?

Simmons, the Sixers' enigmatic All-Star, had a stellar defensive Game 2 vs. the Hawks, infuriating Trae Young and helping the Sixers even the series. But Simmons also scored just four points on three shots and missed both of his free throw attempts. Simmons is shooting 13 of 40 from the free throw line this postseason.

Thus is the Ben Simmons conundrum: he sure is great at basketball, but... why can't he shoot? 

According to ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, who joined the latest episode of Takeoff with John Clark, the problem has to be one thing and one thing only.

Work ethic.

Clark asked Smith what he thinks the Sixers can do after this season to try and fix Simmons' glaring lack of shooting ability, from the line or from the field. 

Smith didn't hold back:

"I think you put Ben Simmons in the gym. I'm gonna put this out here: I think it's an issue of work ethic. I really, really do. 

"I'm not calling him lazy, I'm not trying to cast any aspersions on his character. He's a good kid, he cares, and he goes out there and I think that he's an elite player. 

"But in the offseason, you can't tell me he's working on his jump shot. There's no way. When you won't even attempt them when you're playing for this team, you're clearly not working on it enough."

 

That's pretty to the point! Smith also said he believes the Sixers won't beat the Brooklyn Nets in a potential Eastern Conference Finals series because of Simmons' inability to make free throws and jump shots with any regularity.

I'm a pretty big fan of Ben Simmons. I love his game, his passing ability, his transcendent vision, his rabid defense. He's an astoundingly talented and entertaining player.

But there Smith is correct: if Simmons was seriously working on his game the way those around him always claim during the summer, we would've seen evidence by now. 

It took LeBron James one summer to become a monster in the post. It took DeAndre Jordan two seasons and a few tweaks to go from 48.2 percent at the line to 70.5 percent at the line. 

This is how elite athletes work. Because they have the time and resources to practice their craft over and over, they're able to bend their skillsets at will. Simmons has those same resources, but we haven't seen any difference from his shooting ability in four years.

And perhaps this is just the player we'll be getting for the rest of Simmons' career. It's certainly a good one! Sixers head coach Doc Rivers doesn't pretend, like his predecessor Brett Brown did, that he wants Simmons to be shooting more. Rivers instead goes out of his way to explain that Simmons does everything else well, and suggests that maybe Simmons' critics should enjoy those parts of his game instead of worrying about the shot.

Except that in a league dominated by those who can shoot, being stuck with a player who can't - or won't learn how - can sometimes be a real handicap.

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