PHILADELPHIA – In the aftermath of Philadelphia’s game one defeat to the Brooklyn Nets, much has been made of Ben Simmons’ disappointing performance.
As is always the case with Simmons, discussion over the past 24 hours has focused on what he can’t do offensively. Weaknesses get examined in the postseason, and the Nets treated Simmons with zero respect from the perimeter. Simmons’ man sags off and clogs the paint when Philadelphia is on offence – it’s a familiar refrain.
Brooklyn didn’t reinvent the wheel with how they slowed the Australian, but they do deserve credit for executing the game plan. They took away Simmons’ primary source of offence and unable to impact the game, he dropped his head. As Game 1 developed, Simmons’ frustrations became clear and his only contributions to the second half offence were a series of maddening turnovers as the Sixers attempted to mount a comeback.
Speaking at Sixers practice in Philadelphia, Simmons was asked if he played aggressively in Game 1. His response was illuminating.
“I don’t think I was aggressive enough,” Simmons said. “I think I can be more aggressive. I got Dudley and the other kid guarding me.”
Anyone expecting Simmons to come out firing from the perimeter this postseason is kidding themselves. It’s not going to happen. He isn’t going to click his fingers and develop a competent jumper during the Sixers postseason campaign. His shot is troublesome and he clearly doesn’t trust it, but there is nothing stopping him from lowering his shoulder and getting to the rim.
Simmons has to take responsibility for what he can control. On offence, that means leveraging his size and ratcheting up the pressure on a smaller Nets frontline. Defensively, it means playing with energy on every possession.
The most disappointing aspect of Simmons’ Game 1 showing was what he did without the basketball. His defensive performance was littered with fundamental mistakes that are inexcusable for someone of his stature. An effective outside stroke will take months to develop, but playing great defence is something that Simmons is capable of right now, even if he didn’t show it.
Joe Harris, who shot 47% from three this season, is one of the best shooters in the NBA. The cushion Simmons gives him on this possession is maddening, before he then doubles down on the mistake and aimlessly wanders into the paint. The result: a wide open three for Harris.
Simmons has an inclination for switching assignments on the perimeter. The Sixers’ lack of cohesion is clear given their short time together and it makes the process of handing off defensive assignments a challenge. Simmons was involved in a number of switching situations on Saturday and it often led to easy scoring chances for the Nets.
During a stretch in the third quarter, Simmons frequently found himself matched up on Ed Davis around the basket. Simmons’ attempts to box out Davis could best be described as lacklustre.
The discussion will always come back to Simmons’ shooting. It’s the glaring hole in his game and he cannot elevate into an MVP calibre player without it. But that is a discussion for the offseason. He is already an All-Star and has the tools to be an elite defender. He can dominate games without shooting the ball 20 times.
Brett Brown has talked all season about how special Simmons can be as a defensive player. Simmons has echoed the sentiment of his head coach and repeated his desire to excel as a stopper.
The only person that’s stopping Simmons from dominating on the defensive end, is himself.
Other notes and observations from Philadelphia
– Simmons’ bad showing in game one drew the ire of the local fans in Philadelphia, who showered the Australian with boos during the poor performance. He spoke critically of the fans postgame and addressed the matter again on Sunday.
“It’s Philly, that’s what’s gonna happen. I mean I love it, that’s how Philly is. You can play or you can’t, they’re going to give you shit and they talk shit, it is what it is.
“If you’re not playing well, they’re going to let you know, but I love being here. I love the fans here, I wouldn’t want to be in a place where they didn’t really care or only showed up when times were going well. A few years ago we were winning 10 games.”
– Brown was preaching calm and patience at Sixers practice on Sunday. He pointed to the three upsets on the first day of the NBA playoffs as a example of how things don’t always do to plan in the postseason.
“Nobody accepts what happened yesterday. Interestingly, as I remind [the team], you look around the league yesterday and three scalps were had by visiting teams. It is just part of how do you win four games? So much of it for me over the years is, how you have that psychological stability where you don’t overreact. Where you are at peace at some part of yourself, where you’re solid and steady. Where you’re not up and down all the time. The playoffs can trip you. Families are in town. Media is at its pinnacle and you have to ignore the noise.”
– Jonah Bolden played just a handful of minutes in game one and is officially listed as “probable” for game two. Bolden has been battling left knee soreness over the past week.