Back in 2016, with the first overall pick in the NBA draft, the Philadelphia 76ers selected Ben Simmons, a 6-foot-11 Australian-born point guard. He had played one year of college basketball at Louisiana State University. The pick excited 76ers fans and labelled Simmons asthe next great one, with frequent comparisons made to Magic Johnson and LeBron James. Still, we should have taken note that Simmons had never attempted a three-pointer while at LSU.
And that incredible hype comes with huge expectations from the local fan base, particularly in Philadelphia. The fact that Simmons went on to miss his first year after breaking his foot in the preseason only added to the intrigue surrounding the former number one pick.
In his first full season of action (2017-18 season), Simmons put his skills on full display. He averaged 16 points per game, eight rebounds and eight assists, which resulted in him winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award.
In Simmons’ second full year of playing in the NBA, he had an even better year than his first, with averages of 17 points per game, nine rebounds, and eight assists en route to making his first all-star appearance. In the following two seasons, Simmons made two more all-star appearances, but saw his numbers go down each season. And throughout his time in the league, Simmons has yet to develop or even attempt any type of jump shot. It doesn’t help that in most of the games he plays in, he’s not looking to shoot the ball; he either drives to the basket or passes.
For his career, Simmons is 5-34 from the three-point line over four seasons. The ratio is uninspiring, but he is also averaging less than nine attempts per season. In today’s league, with high-powered offense leading the way, this is remarkable. Still, Simmons has proven he is able to develop his skills; in the regular season, he has gradually improved his free throw percentage, going from 56 percent his first year to 61 percent this past year.
When it came time for the 2021 NBA playoffs this year, with the Sixers having the number 1 seed in the east, an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid and a “star” in Ben Simmons, there were big expectations. Those expectations: a championship finals appearance or bust.
As we are too well aware of, the Sixers playoff run was a “bust,” primarily due to Ben Simmons’s inability to be aggressive in games. In the first series, the Sixers played against the Wizards, during which they won in five games. Simmons wasn’t a star in this series, but his play was good enough to help get them to the second round.
The issue with Simmons came in that second round against the Atlanta Hawks. Simmons, a defensive specialist and runner-up for this year’s Defensive Player of the Year Award, struggled mightily covering Hawks star point guard Trae Young, who averaged 29 points and 11 assists in the series.
Besides a solid performance in game three — recording 18 points and seven assists in a Sixers victory — Simmons was almost nonexistent in the seven game series, averaging 9.9 points, 8.6 assists and 6.3 rebounds. His worst statistic of the series was his performance from the free-throw line, shooting an abysmal 15-of-45 from the free-throw line.
In the playoffs as a whole, seven-game Simmons shot 34.2 percent, which (according to ESPN) is the worst free-throw shooting percentage in NBA playoff history with at least 70 attempts. And that includes some notoriously bad free throw shooters (Shaq, Wilt, etc.) but no point guards!
The boiling point came in game seven during a play that pretty much encapsulated Simmons’ confidence mentally. With three minutes and 31 seconds left in game seven and the 76ers down by two, Simmons was in the post—backing down Danilo Gallinari, getting by him, leaving him wide open for a dunk. Instead of dunking the ball for an easy two points, Simmons passed the ball to Matisse Thybulle, who was completely covered and could only make one free throw after getting fouled.
The Sixers lost the game to the Hawks 103-96, which eliminated the Sixers from the playoffs. This marks the second time in three years that the 76ers were destroyed in game seven of the second round.
After the game, 76ers superstar Joel Embiid was asked what the turning point in the loss to the Hawks was. While he didn’t mention Simmons by name, Embiiid referred to Simmons passing up a dunk as the turning point in the game.
“I’ll be honest: I thought the turning point was when we had an open shot, and we made one free throw, and we missed the other, and they came down and scored,” Embiid told the Washington Post.
“From there … it’s on me,” he added. “I turned the ball over and tried to make something happen from the perimeter. But I thought that was the turning point.”
So, where do the 76ers go from here? Specifically, what does the team do with Ben Simmons? Do they keep him and hope he magically develops a jump shot and confidence. Or do they trade him for an established player who has a jump shot and, more importantly, doesn’t lack confidence? That’s up to the 76ers President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey to decide.
According to NBA reporter Shams Charania of the Athletic, the 76ers would be willing to trade Ben Simmons away, but only for a “all-Star caliber player” in return. There are only a handful of players in the league that are considered all-star caliber, and even less that teams would actually consider trading. Some of the names that have popped up as trade candidates include Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal, Collin Sexton, Zach Lavine, and even Russel Westbrook.
Of those players, the best fit and player for the 76ers would be Damian Lillard. His resume speaks for itself: He has been named an all-star six times in his career at only 30-years-old, he can facilitate and, most importantly, he is lethal from three-point range and can create his own shot. The combination of Lillard and Embiid would be deadly for the 76ers. What’s better than having two MVP candidates on the same team? This would be a dream scenario for the 76ers.
However, acquiring a player of Lillard’s caliber would take more than just giving up Ben Simmons. The 76ers would probably also have to give up draft picks, as well as Tyrese Maxey, Matisse Thybulle or both.
This trade can only happen if the Blazers want to trade Lillard. That may be the case if Lillard asks to be traded, which he hasn’t yet. Given the frequency of trade requests lately over the years in the league, it would not be a surprise to see Lillard do the same. If this is the case, Lillard should be the Sixers number one goal.