There is simply no way one can dispute the talent of Ben Simmons. Former Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year finalist, and the possible "second-coming of LeBron James" are some of the things that come to mind when we speak of the 6’10 guard from Australia.
Simmons is an All-Star and widely believed to be the second-best player on a championship contender, but as with all players, he does have his weaknesses. The only difference between Ben and the NBA’s elite right now is the willingness to work on these weaknesses to become as lethal of a threat as one can possibly be.
“Ben Simmons is a jump shot away from becoming the next LeBron James.”
Stephen A. Smith
Ben’s weakness, however, is a rather glaring one and has been the subject of debate for most if not all of his NBA career. There have been players that struggled with their shot before, such as Simmons does, but very few have been as reluctant to take shots as he seems to be. Not only does this figure to be the case as far as perimeter jumpers are concerned, but this postseason has proven to be a struggle for Ben in what is normally a guard’s haven - the free-throw line.
Simmons is shooting 34% from the foul line this postseason, with Shaquille O’Neal being the only one to ever shoot worse from the stripe in the playoffs at 33% as he was already showing signs of decline during his final postseason with the Miami Heat. More importantly, Ben’s free throw percentage has been on a downward trend since his first postseason in 2018, one in which he shot 74.7% from the line. Simmons’ coaches past and present have often dismissed any questions related to concerns around his shooting, often urging inquisitors to focus on the positives in Ben’s game instead of poking at his faults.
While we understand that they were sticking up for a young star who is far from a finished product, what happens when the negatives do not allow him to showcase the positives when on the floor or let alone be on the floor when it really matters. This has slowly become the main storyline of the series and what is believed to be what tips the scales in favor of Ben’s opponents, introducing Hack-a-Ben.
Let us look at Game 4 of the Sixers-Hawks series, for example, where you had Philadelphia jump out to an early lead only to let Atlanta back into a game. Joel Embiid was struggling to find the rim and get up and down the court. Usually, that is where your second-best player starts to get more aggressive, but in Ben’s case, he did not even attempt a single shot in the final quarter and, in fact, was sitting on the bench for the team’s final possession to potentially tie the game. This isn’t simply about free-throw shooting struggles anymore, as these same struggles are now hindering him from affecting big games in a positive manner.
As we look to Game 5 tomorrow, it seems that the Hawks’ strategy will be simple, get the ball out of Embiid’s hands and make him work extremely hard on both ends of the floor. To go with that, try to contain Harris to keep him from having a big game and let Ben Simmons find a way to beat them. All eyes are on Ben now, and it is time for him to go out there, be aggressive and prove that he can deliver when it matters the most. Can he be aggressive and efficient enough to keep Atlanta’s defense honest? Or are we going to see the beginning of the end of Ben Simmons unless he can find it in him to work on his shot?
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