Ben Simmons’ rise and fall with the Sixers has been well-documented. For the most part, his former teammate Joel Embiid has steered clear of really speaking his mind on the former #1 overall pick.
However, the topic of Simmons came up when the NBA MVP joined his current teammate, Tyrese Maxey, on his Maxey on the Mic Podcast.
For those of you who don’t remember, Simmons’ time in Philadelphia derailed during and after the 2021 postseason, as Simmons became less and less aggressive, haunted by the fear of getting fouled. In the 7-game second round series against the Atlanta Hawks, Simmons went just 15-for-45 from the charity stripe. In the fourth quarter of the seven games of the series, Simmons took a *total* of three shots from the floor, making none.
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The Sixers fanbase placed the blame for the series loss squarely at Simmons’ feet, and the descent began. A months-long holdout ensued, and eventually a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, where he has struggled with injuries and inconsistent play.
With all that water under the bridge, it would be easy for Embiid to kick more dirt on Simmons. But he offered a take that offered a different perspective.
“I’ve always been one of those people that didn’t believe that [Simmons] didn’t actually need a jumper,” Embiid said of Simmons. “Like he was so good, he’s just a monster like just physically. Like someone is fricking 6’11”, just running up and down the floor faster than whatever… so like I never believed that he actually needed a jumper.”
“I just believed that if he could find a way to get his free throws to 75-80%, that would have changed everything. Because if you think about it, if he believed that he could make shots what would he do? He would keep attacking, attacking, attacking, and never stopping. And then what would the defense have to do? He was already such a great playmaker.”
While it’s good to see an athlete cast personal differences aside and take the high road, Embiid’s point is a debatable one. Being more aggressive may or may not have helped Simmons. With his athleticism, he can get to the basket better than most NBA players. But he shot 60% FT in the regular season while with the Sixers, and that percentage plummeted in the postseason, where teams are far more likely to attack what you don’t do well. In the three postseasons he played with the Sixers, Simmons shot just 52% from the line, including 34.2% during the 2021 playoffs.
Most of Simmons’ field goal attempts were in the paint, so at 60% from the line, you would have to figure that opponents would far rather foul a player than allow him a high-percentage shot. That ramps up further in the postseason, where players must earn every basket.
If Simmons worked at becoming more consistent at the free throw line, opponents challenging his shots would do so at their own risk. Armed with that confidence, Simmons’ career arc could have gone very differently. Embiid uses the current NBA rules on fouls like Picasso used cubism, and pours in points from the free throw line. Since the start of the 2020-2021 season, he’s made 1,975 free throws, nearly 300 more than the next-best player, Atlanta’s Trae Young.
Simmons not developing a jumper, or improving on his free throw shooting, could go down as among the biggest “what-ifs” in NBA history. But at 27 years old, there’s still plenty of time to get there.