June 13, 2021

Opinion: With Sixers’ Ben Simmons, there’s a lot to love. But critics shoot down his game

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Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers doesn’t want to hear any more question about Ben Simmons’ scoring or free throw shooting woes.

Chances are Rivers will get one before the playoffs are over, and chances are Rivers will not deviate from his steadfast support of his All-Star guard.

“With Ben, we’re going to keep him on the floor unless you guys want us to bench him the whole game,” Rivers said. “If anybody wants us to do that, just let me know, and then I’ll know you don’t know basketball.”

That was in response to a question about Simmons’ foul shooting during the Sixers’ first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against Washington. Simmons missed his first 10 free throws in the series and the Wizards at times employed Hack-A-Ben.

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With or without Joel Embiid, who sustained a small lateral tear of the meniscus in his right knee, the Sixers need Simmons on the court in the conference semifinals against Atlanta. The series starts Sunday (1 p.m. ET, ABC) in Philadelphia.

In defense of Rivers’ defense of Simmons, the Sixers point-forward is too valuable offensively and defensively.

Although critics harp on his scoring and free-throwing shooting, Sixers coach Doc Rivers says Ben Simmons (25) helps the team in so many other ways. Simmons is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

Although critics harp on his scoring and free-throwing shooting, Sixers coach Doc Rivers says Ben Simmons (25) helps the team in so many other ways. Simmons is a leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

If Embiid is unavailable or limited, how far the Sixers go in the postseason will depend on Simmons and his unique skillset and oft-criticized game.

The complaints have been around for seasons — he is a one-dimensional scorer without a jump shot or 3-point shot and is a liability at the foul line.

This is just Rivers’ first season as Sixers coach, so it’s just his first go-around with the persistent questions.

River is composed but he nearly lost it when he was asked about Simmons’ lack of scoring in Game 4 against the Wizards after Embiid left the game with a knee injury.

“You guys keep this Ben Simmons narrative alive, which to me is freaking insane (considering) how good this guy is and all the things he does,” Rivers said. “Ben is not a 40-point guy. It’s not what he does. He does other things for your team, and I just don’t understand why that’s not sinking in in our city.

“You know, everybody on the team doesn’t have to be a scorer to help the team. Ben scores, but Ben creates scoring for us. That’s what he does. So, if I’m Ben at some point, I’d get tired of it. I just would. Because he’s just too good, and he does so many good things for this basketball team, and I keep saying ‘celebrate him,’ celebrate all the stuff he does well. We don’t do that enough.”

Of course, Rivers would like Simmons — a career 59.7% foul shooter — to make more free throws. It does present problems late in games, but the impact Simmons has defensively makes it near impossible to keep him off the floor when the game is undecided in the final minutes. He is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate — Wizards coach Scott Brooks said Simmons should win the award — and the tradeoff (sitting him) isn’t worth it.

The criticism isn’t so intense when you zoom out and look at what he did against the Wizards: 14.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 9.2 assists per game while shooting 64% from the field. He is a force in the open court driving and cutting to the basket while using his size and strength advantage.

With Simmons on the court in the regular season and playoffs, the Sixers are better than when he’s not in the game. Those are objective statistics. He’s a three-time All-Star, first-team All-Defense and third-team All-NBA in 2019-20.

It’s a silly notion that Simmons shouldn’t be in the game — the risk is worth it in the free throw situation — or that he isn’t scoring enough. Consider the alternative: no Simmons at all. Twenty-nine other teams would love to have Simmons.

On Instagram, Simmons had fun with fickle fans and critical media after he had a triple-double in Philadelphia’s series-ending Game 5 victory against the Wizards.

“They love me. They love me not. They love me. They love me not,” Simmons wrote with a flower and laughing-crying emojis attached.

Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sixers’ Ben Simmons has his critics, Doc Rivers can’t understand why

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