After averaging less than 10 points per game in the second-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers point guard Ben Simmons has caught a lot of heat. The fourth-year guard, who's been criticized for his lack of shooting throughout his entire NBA career, has yet to change the narrative about himself.
As the Hawks barely-viewed Simmons as an offensive threat throughout their seven-game series against the Sixers, Philly's offense had major spacing issues and failed to find a rhythm at times. And when Atlanta really wanted to challenge Simmons to beat them offensively, they had to just simply send him to the free-throw line.
Simmons lost his confidence in the postseason this year. During the regular season, he drained 61-percent of his free throws. In the series against the Hawks, he knocked just 33-percent. Admittedly, it was a mental hurdle, which Simmons failed to overcome.
Although the 76ers lost their seven-game series against the Hawks as a team, Simmons garnered tons of blame as he failed to step up and help his team in the scoring department when they needed it the most. Sixers veteran Danny Green addressed the critics during his exit press conference on Monday afternoon.
“Ben has gone through quite a bit this year, and it’s not his fault that we lost,” said Danny Green. “Everybody’s gonna say ‘Oh, Ben could’ve done this,’ if I made some shots in Game 1 for us [we would've won]. You could also say Shake (Milton), Furkan (Korkmaz), Matisse (Thybulle) as you go down the line. There were so many mistakes that happened. You can’t just harp on one player.”
Green's point is a valuable one. While Simmons' struggles might rank high on the list of reasons why the Sixers failed to overcome the fifth seed in the playoffs this season, it's just one factor of many. There is a lot of work to be done in the offseason for Simmons, but Green and 76ers veteran big man Dwight Howard assure everybody that Simmons will come back better than ever next season.
"He might have messed up, didn't take no shots, didn't do whatever, but he's going to come back better next year," said Sixers center Dwight Howard. "That's a lot of pressure, man. He's 24 years old, and he got everybody in the world telling him he can't do something he's been doing his whole life. Everybody telling him he can't do it. Now he's all in his head. Let that man live. That man got it in him to be great, man. I believe this is something that's going to wake him up. As mad as y'all want to be, send him some positive vibes," Howard finished.
“Ben’s gonna be fine," Green explained. "I think it’s a mistake that people think that he doesn’t care. I guess by his tone, his mannerisms, whatever it may be in a press conference, and by his actions, you can see it in his play that he cares. I think he might be a little afraid of certain things, but because of how his interviews go, he doesn’t show much, I guess, emotions, but believe it or not, he cares. It hurts him more than anybody. He’s a bigger critic than anybody of himself, and that hurts him deeply that he wasn’t able to be himself and help his team win.”
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers met with Simmons on Monday to lay out the plan for the offseason. While Rivers has gone to war defending Simmons and his limitations throughout the entire regular season and the playoffs, the veteran head coach isn't blind to the fact that there is a lot of work to be done. The criticism surrounding Simmons might not blow over anytime soon, but the Sixers are ready to tune it out and get Simmons back on the right path to being the player he's supposed to be.
Justin Grasso covers the Philadelphia 76ers for Sports Illustrated. You can follow him for live updates on Twitter: @JGrasso_.