Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.
Offense being the key word here.
Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.
For a player that relies so heavily on driving to the basket to get shots off close to the hoop, it's expected for that player to draw plenty of contact resulting in a lot of free throw opportunities. That was certainly indicative of what we saw from Simmons in the first two rounds of the 20-21 playoffs.
He got to the line 45 times against the Hawks in their second round matchup, but only converted 15 freebies which equates to a 33% free throw percentage in the series. Simmons shot just 34.2% from the stripe if you include their first round games against the Wizards, which accounts for the worst free throw percentage by a player with at least 70 attempts in a postseason in NBA playoff history.
With a minimum of 70 attempts, Ben Simmons' 34.2% free throw percentage this postseason is the worst in a postseaso… https://t.co/EvEcQxEe8m— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPN Stats & Info)1624244835.0
In the four games that Atlanta beat Philly in this series, they lost by a combined 17 points. If Ben Simmons shoots just 70% from the line and makes 31-45 during this series, that adds 16 to Philadelphia's series point total. Obviously, the attempts might not directly impact the losses, but from a very broad overview, it would draw the series significantly closer — especially taking into account that three of the four losses the 76ers took in the series were lost by four points or fewer.
Also let's not allow people to say that the free throw stat is overblown and out of context. It's not. Shaquille O'Neal, who is notoriously one of the worst free throw shooters in league history, still managed a career playoff free throw percentage of 50%. That's why we saw the conception of "Hack-a-Shaq" where teams would intentionally foul O'Neal to put him on the line rather than allowing him to hurt them in other ways.
We've begun to see teams adopt this practice now with Simmons, which is just flat out embarrassing for a player of Simmons' pedigree. We have seen what he's able to do with the ball. He flies down the court on fast breaks, is a brilliant creator for teammates, and is one of the better finishers at the rim that we have in the league today.
We've already touched on his defensive prowess that has elevated him to becoming NBA All-Defense multiple times and a three time All-Star. But what do the Sixers do with Simmons before next season?
The 24-year-old point-forward still has plenty of time to work on his game. We've seen other players add a jumper later in their careers to great success; just ask Vince Carter how that works. But, usually, in order to develop a perimeter shot, there is at least a solid foundation to build on — that being the ability to consistently hit free throws.
Simmons is a career 60% free throw shooter, and he shot right around the mean during the regular season. The decline in made shots from the charity stripe in this postseason is cause for concern that this isn't the beginning of a trend.
Add to that Simmons' reluctance to take shots further away from the basket, and defenses have the luxury of ignoring Simmons in the half court set. We have seen teams (like the Jazz and 76ers) that rely heavily on the pick and roll get shut down in these playoffs, and it's teams like Atlanta and Phoenix that are able to spread defenses thin by putting multiple shooters on the court at one time succeed.
In 34 career playoff games, Ben Simmons has made 5 shots outside of 10 feet (from the basket).— Paul Hembekides (@Paul Hembekides)1624277710.0
Joel Embiid was phenomenal in the postseason, so let's not ignore that fact. Also, he was playing on one knee and still almost willed the Sixers to a win. But again, Embiid was not 100% in the playoffs, which limited his abilities.
Doc Rivers answers a question whether Ben Simmons can be the point guard of a championship team https://t.co/8xL35u98RC— Rob Perez (@Rob Perez)1624244460.0
Following their loss, Doc Rivers was asked if he thought Ben Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team, to which he responded, "I don't know that answer to that question right now," which doesn't provide a whole lot of confidence in Simmons' status with the team next year. Trade rumors have already begun to circulate, and it would make sense for this Philly team to hit the reset button now.
If Simmons continues to be exploitable in big moments, as we've seen him be so far in his career, his value is only going to go down. Adding further complications into the situation is the team just agreed to a new contract extension with Simmons and is due to make between $33 and $40 million per season over the next four years.
As the two cornerstone pieces of The Process appear to be two Scotties without a Mike, the early departure for the East's top seed will likely mean a big shakeup in the near future. If Embiid is healthy, he is elite without question. Maybe Philadelphia will go out and add around their two stars, but unless the organization is confident that Simmons can avoid another atrocious offensive performance in future playoff series, all they have is a really good regular season team.
The play-ins have been a short, but wild rollercoaster and the playoffs are getting ready to set off.
The seeds are finally set, and the first-round matchups are 76ers(1) vs Wizards(8), Nets(2) vs Celtics(7), Bucks(3) vs Heat(6), and Knicks(4) vs Hawks(5).
Today’s #NBAPlayoffs schedule 📺 ▪️ MIA/MIL: 2020 Eastern Conference Semifinals rematch ▪️ DAL/LAC: 2nd consecutiv… https://t.co/VBl9jKJOJF— NBA (@NBA)1621693800.0
76ers vs Wizards:
The Russell Westbrook-Joel Embiid rivalry will continue during this year's playoffs and fans cannot wait. The Wizards finished the season with a 16-6 record, and after a lackluster start this season, they have made themselves a dangerous 8th seed. While the 76ers didn't finish the season hot, I'm sure with a team-full of veterans, rest was more of a priority. The 76ers beat the Wizards three times during the season, but two of those games were very close and came early in the season.
The Wizards can definitely make this series a challenging one for the 76ers. The Wizards have shooters all around with Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans. But the 76ers have a much deeper team with guys like Danny Green, Seth Curry, and Dwight Howard providing good veteran leadership. The Wizards are riding on the health of Bradley Beal, who has dealt with hamstring tightness in the past two weeks.
Nets vs Celtics:
The Nets finally seem to be healthy just in time for the playoffs, which is dangerous for Boston. Although the Nets big three only played eight games together, the Nets still finished with a 48-24. The Nets also have a great mix of reliable veterans like Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green, and Joe Harris. These two teams meet three times during the regular season with Brooklyn taking all three games.
The Celtics have not lived up to expectations this year. After making a conference finals last year, it was expected to carry through the regular season, but they never found their stride. Jaylen Brown will continue to be sidelined with a broken wrist, so most of the load will be carried by Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. I see this series being an easy one for the Nets.
Jaw-dropping handles, unlimited scoring ability and incredible playmaking… Kyrie Irving. #ThatsGame Kyrie and th… https://t.co/Oxb2hKv6OL— NBA (@NBA)1621697400.0
Bucks vs Heat:
A rematch of the heated second-round matchup last year, where the Heat upset Milwaukee, who had Giannis dealing with injuries. Interestingly enough, both of these come to the playoffs on the right side with an 8-2 record in their last 10 regular-season games. Giannis is back with more weapons on his sides like Jrue Holiday, PJ Tucker, and Jeff Teague, while also keeping their core from last year. Giannis had had another MVP-type season averaging 28 points and 11 rebounds.
The Miami Heat started the season off slow, probably because of the NBA finals hangover, but got hot after the all-star break. Miami also acquired many new weapons like Trevor Ariza and Dewayne Dedmon. The Jimmy Butler-Giannis Antetokounmpo matchup will be the most important aspect of this series.
Knicks vs Hawks
After what seems like a lifetime drought, the Knicks are finally back in the playoffs! We can all agree that when the Knicks are good, the league is in better spirits. Tom Thibodeau has turned this team around, and you can't forget about how Julius Randle has been playing this season. Possibly the most improved player, Julius Randle has proved all his doubters wrong and has taken the keys to this Knicks franchise. The Knicks have great veteran leadership with guys like Derrick Rose, and Taj Gibson who are familiar with Thibodeau. They also have great young talent with guys like RJ Barret, and Obi Toppin.
The Hawks on the other hand have turned it around since firing Lloyd Pierce and having Nate McMillan made this team do a complete 180. Trae Young and John Collins are one of the best duos in the league. With guys like Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari, and Bogdan Bogdanovic who can get hot at any point of the game. This series can definitely go to 7 games, with last-second shots determining the outcome.
The draft saw a few trades that sent some familiar faces to new places and the free agency period is now open.
In less than a week, we've seen the defending champion Lakers acquire dynamic guard Dennis Schröder from OKC. Chris Paul is now in Phoenix with Devin Booker and the Suns. Jrue Holiday and, well, just Jrue Holiday, is joining Giannis in Milwaukee, and that's just a few of the big moves around the NBA so far.
But with all that excitement comes some bad news as well. Warriors star Klay Thompson tore his Achilles and will miss the entire 2020-21 season. This after the sharpshooting guard missed the previous season with a torn ACL. It's a tough blow for the Dubs as they sought to contend for a title this season, but without Thompson, the odds are against them. General manager Bob Myers wasted no time in bolstering the roster, however:
The Golden State Warriors are finalizing a trade to acquire Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kelly Oubre, Jr., for a 2… https://t.co/5VDqSmtyhH— Adrian Wojnarowski (@Adrian Wojnarowski)1605837968.0
Kelly Oubre, within a matter of days, went from Phoenix, to Oklahoma City before finally landing in the Bay Area. Oubre will be joined by No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman.
Point guard Tyrese Haliburton fell into the Sacramento Kings' lap at No. 12 after the Iowa State product was projected to be a top-8 pick. LaMelo Ball will be playing in Charlotte, meaning we might get to see Lavar and Michael Jordan play 1-on-1 after all.
The Clippers traded Landry Shamet to Brooklyn in a three-team trade that puts shooting guard Luke Kennard in Los Angeles. Denver picked up RJ Hampton who could be the Nuggets' next Michael Porter Jr — a guy who was a former five-star recruit in high school and might be the steal of the draft.
But perhaps the biggest winner in this thrilling and unpredictable NBA week so far are the Philadelphia 76ers. No, they didn't get James Harden. But president of basketball operations Daryl Morey showed his worth Wednesday with these two moves:
Morey cleared Al Horford's atrocious contract while adding a veteran 3-and-D wing in Danny Green, later adding an elite shooter in Seth Curry, a career 44% marksman. Surrounding Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with perimeter threats is a recipe for success in an Eastern Conference that is rapidly improving.
Hell, even the Knicks took a step forward by drafting athletic and electric forward Obi Toppin, a Brooklyn Native. That was followed by shedding some salaries to clear up $40 million in cap space:
The Knicks declined team option on Bobby Portis ($15.7M) and waived Taj Gibson ($10.29M) and Elfrid Payton ($8M), s… https://t.co/zV704ACxkP— Shams Charania (@Shams Charania)1605809488.0
Cap space means potential free agents, and there's a couple New York should be targeting.
The Knicks have money to spend and there's players looking to get paid. This could end well for both parties involved, and Knicks fans might have something to look forward to after years of being a league laughing stock.
Celtics forward Gordon Hayward opted out of his $34 million player option to become an unrestricted free agent. You might think he's dumb for leaving that money on the table, and he might be, but Hayward is looking for a long-term contract, hence why his time in Boston ended. Hayward would give New York an effective playmaker, efficient scorer and veteran presence. He should be their second free agent aspiration, however.
Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, at just 26 years of age, is an UFA and is looking for a bag, he said so himself (:40 mark):
Episode 25 is live with @fredvanvleet. Really great interview. Here’s Fred on what he’s expecting this off-season.… https://t.co/WldtraKgvK— TheOldMan&TheThree (@TheOldMan&TheThree)1605119016.0
VanVleet and Hayward could bring the Knicks back to relevancy and maybe, just maybe, to the playoffs.
Other notable free agents who could be on new rosters soon include:
-Serge Ibaka (UFA)
-Rajon Rondo (UFA)
-Dwight Howard (UFA)
-Demarcus Cousins (UFA)
-Danilo Gallinari (UFA)
-Avery Bradley (UFA)
-Brandon Ingram (RFA)
There's many more free agents than those listed above which is why these next couple days are going to be fun.
Wes Matthews and reigning sixth man of the year, Montrezl Harrell, are expected to sign with the Lakers. Bradley opted out of his deal with LAL as he's looking for a longer deal, and he might get it, but it might not be with the Lakers, as the Warriors will try to lure the defensive specialist to NorCal.
New Orleans will presumably offer Ingram the max money he can earn after his first All-Star selection last season. Joe Harris has reportedly gotten his payday from the Nets with a 4 year, $75 million contract.
The Hawks, like the Knicks, have a bunch of money to spend and could throw some to Rondo who's coming off an incredible championship run with the Lakers. The Clippers will also be in the hunt for the veteran point guard, per reports.
Friday's free agency opening could make for some major power shifts and headlines that would cap off one of the most memorable NBA off seasons in undeniably the most memorable year in recent history.
The NBA offseason is off to a sizzling start, and we're only three days into it.
With the shortened offseason the NBA Draft is tonight, and free agency begins Friday. But the biggest move has yet to be made, and it could happen at any moment.
James Harden has openly requested a trade from Houston, and per reports, he wants to play in Brooklyn with his former teammate Kevin Durant and point guard Kyrie Irving. Harden's backcourt partner Russell Westbrook wants out, too.
Sources: After turning down an extension offer to become the first $50M a year player in league history, James Hard… https://t.co/rvlsr2NhTr— Adrian Wojnarowski (@Adrian Wojnarowski)1605577569.0
Any trade offer coming from the Nets would, at the very least, include Caris LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie, and a slew of picks. It's not that easy, though.
ESPN is now reporting that Houston is feeling no pressure in moving its superstars, but that doesn't mean they've stopped fielding calls for The Beard.
So, what if I told you the Sixers can offer a better deal for Harden than the Nets?
Former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is running the show in Philly now, and he's looking to reunite with his All-NBA shooting guard. And if you're current Rockets GM Rafael Stone, you want to get the best possible return for your franchise, regardless of where you send Harden. That's also why you don't want to rush this process, because you're in the driver's seat. Not Harden and not any of the teams desperate to acquire the 2017-18 MVP.
Moreover, seeing the return the Thunder got in the Chris Paul trade from the Pelicans in the Jrue Holiday package only increases the absurd return Houston can get for a top-10 player.
What Can Philly trade for The Beard?
The Sixers have two of the top 20 players in the NBA in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Embiid is one of the best two-way players in the game, coming off a 2019-20 campaign in which he averaged 23 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a contest. He's also a two-time All-Defensive selection.
Simmons is fresh off his first All-Defensive team selection and logged 16.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and eight assists per game. He's only 24 and Embiid is just 26. But only one can remain in a pursuit of Harden, and if I'm Daryl Morey, I volunteer Simmons as tribute.
Pairing an elite scorer like Harden with Embiid AND Simmons would be a dream come true for Philly. But that's the catch — it's just a dream.
If Philadelphia is able to somehow turn it into reality though, the Harden + Embiid combo has the makings of a top-notch duo — one that can compete with KD and Kyrie in Brooklyn, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Boston, and the new look Bucks in Milwaukee.
For the Rockets, an exchange in which they get Simmons back is a major win that could fast-forward a rebuild, assuming they move Westbrook, too.
In order to make this trade work, however, the Sixers need to dump one of the horrific contracts they have.
Backup center Al Horford is set to make $27 million annually over each of the next three seasons, and forward Tobis Harris will earn $33 million, $36 million, $38 million and $41 million over the next four seasons. YIKES.
There's no way in hell Houston asks for Harris in the deal, but Horford's contract is feasible, and it would give the team a starting center, like, a real one.
Here's my proposal:
The trade machine doesn't allow this deal to be processed because Robert Covington is still on Houston's roster (he's being traded to Portland). But in this move, the Rockets get a two-way All-Star in Simmons, a couple of young guards with plenty of potential, and to seal the deal: draft picks.
Philly has five picks in the 2020 draft alone, followed by a 2021 second-rounder and a 2023 second-rounder which will be the most favorable one of three teams': Atlanta, Charlotte and Brooklyn.
The Nets, in addition to LeVert and Dinwiddie, have two picks in Wednesday's draft and four second-round picks in 2021. So it all comes down to what each team is willing to offer, how desperate they are and most importantly, if the Rockets like the return.
In this case, if the Sixers are comfortable and willing to dispatch from Simmons, their 2016 No. 1 overall pick, Houston should seriously consider pulling the trigger. We'll see if Stone and company are feeling frisky ahead of the draft.