WASHINGTON - An introspective Ben Simmons sat back in his locker, following a disappointing showing against the Washington Wizards and called for a change.
“I think I just need to be more aggressive,” Simmons said. “I always look to pass every time. I think in my head I get caught up in trying to throw it too many ways and to guys when I have the opportunity to take it to the rim.”
Simmons’ comments come on the back of a seven-turnover performance in the Philadelphia 76ers 123-106 defeat to the Wizards. His charity wasn’t an isolated incident; the Sixers finished with 24 as a team. For Simmons personally, this was a case of his Achilles' heel rising to the surface. In his lowest NBA moments, the guard has shown a penchant to give the basketball away with shocking frequency.
While the lack of an effective jump shot has been a beacon for criticism this season, its Simmons’ avoidance to even attempt jumpers, that has been more alarming. “I want to see Ben take more jump shots,” Brett Brown said following a Sixers practice in November. This isn’t an isolated sentiment.
Brown has continued to reinforce his support for Simmons testing his budding stroke on the NBA stage. A propensity for sharing the ball and making the right play is what makes Simmons a transformative talent, but sometimes, a more direct touch is required.
Simmons’ turnover issues tonight stemmed from overpassing the basketball. All seven giveaways tonight came within the half-court on attempted passes to teammates, many on possessions where Simmons’ opponent was free to roam freely and clog passing lanes. They are empowered to do so because Simmons’ intent was clear: as always, he wanted to pass the basketball.
The reigning Rookie of the Year must attempt more shots from the field for Philadelphia to rise in the Eastern conference. Their head coach has been saying it all season. Tonight, following a defeat that Simmons labelled as uncompetitive, he gave voice to Brown’s long-held message.
“As soon as I’m being aggressive, [the opposition] need to guard me in a certain way and that’s when I usually get my assists,” Simmons added postgame.
Assists weren’t an issue against the Wizards. He finished with eight, a total that matches his career average, although this performance didn’t match the standard he has set in the NBA. That prompted a change from Brown.
The Sixers head coach deviated form his usual rotation in the third quarter by removing Simmons with 6:52 remaining. The Australian did not see the floor again until the fourth quarter began.
The move was an outlier, as Simmons usually plays the first 9+ minutes after half time, before receiving a rest that brackets the quarter break. Tonight was the earliest Simmons has left a third quarter all season. There was no foul trouble – the Australian only had one personal foul when removed – only a disappointing performance, that led Brown benching Simmons in search of a spark.
“I was trying to find some level of energy and trip on a group that could be able to claw back in it,” Brown said postgame of his altered second half rotation. “It just didn’t happen.
“Games like this do happen. It sure is disappointing not to be able to find a better answer when we are on back-to-backs. But I thought at that time of the game, when that happened, I was just trying to trip on some energy and trip on something that could jump start us.”
Brown’s search for an ignitor switch failed. His team fell to a Wizards outfit they defeated by 17-points just 24 hours earlier. The agony of this defeat far outweighs the accomplishment of last night’s victory. That applies equally to both Simmons and the Sixers as a whole.
With a slew of Western conference elites on deck - Philadelphia plays all of Minnesota, Oklahoma City, Houston, San Antonio, Denver, Los Angeles, Golden State and Sacramento before January is complete – these games against an inferior Washington team represented the respite to an arduous stretch. That makes splitting this back-to-back an unquestioned disappointment.
“I also don't feel like we were that sharp tonight,” Brown said. “ They exposed that part of our disposition and it resulted in, as I said, a lot of different things. One of them: 24 turnovers."
As for Simmons, he has established what he can do in the NBA. That is already plenty, but a new frontier requires contouring and that comes with shooting the basketball.
“Everybody needs to be ready,” Simmons reiterated postgame. “Everybody needs to be ready.”
But is Simmons he ready to be more aggressive? The Sixers are about to find out and the fate of their season could rest with the outcome.