Ben Simmons is Overrated – One Man’s Opinion
This may be controversial, but I have to get this off my chest. I just don’t think that Ben Simmons is as good as everyone in the media seems to think they are. Every broadcast, every article, and so many commentators cannot be more effusive in their praise of these two. The thing that drives me out of my mind is when someone says how great Simmons is, with the caveat “all he needs is a jump shot”. Really? That’s all he needs? Just the single-most important skill in the sport he plays? That’s like saying a baseball player is great, but all he needs to do is hit. I know I sound overly negative, but let’s just get into some numbers. For reference, I will only be comparing him to two other players of similar size (Simmons is listed on NBA.com as 6’ 10”, 230 lbs) and skill – Kevin Durant (6’ 9”, 240 lbs) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (6’ 11”, 242 lbs).
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
According to NBA.com, Simmons shot 56.3% (540/960) from the floor. That’s a pretty good percentage, right? Well, taking a closer look into the numbers, we see that it’s far from as impressive as it is on first glance. In a league where teams live and die by three-point shooting, I have hit as many three-pointers as Simmons- zero. The big difference is that I’m not being paid $5.903 million. In comparison, Giannis has hit 52 of 203 attempts (25.6%- not great but still better than Ben) and KD has hit 137 of 388 attempts (35.3%, right around the league average). Not only does Simmons not shoot 3s, but he also rarely shoots outside of 15 feet! Of his 960 shots, 932 were within 15 feet! That’s an insane ninety-seven percent! Of those, 680 were within five feet! He hit 65% of those shots (443 of 682), but as he moves back, his shooting percentage drops precipitously. He shot 42.5% on shots between 5-9 feet (76 of 179) and an abysmal 25.4% on shots between 10-14 feet (18 of 71). Shots in the 15-19 foot range? Even worse, 9.5% (2 of 21). He’s a terrible shooter.
Here is a side by side by side comparison of the three players:
Simmons Antetokounmpo Durant
0-4’ 493/682 – 65 % 583/803 – 72.6% 218/299 – 72.9%
5-9’ 76/179 – 42.5% 31/101 – 30.7% 56/107 – 52.3%
10-14’ 18/71 – 25.4% 23/55 – 41.8% 139/278 – 50%
15- 19’ 2/21 – 9.5% 28/70 – 40% 157/275 – 57.1%
20-24’ 1/1 – 100% 11/41 – 26.8% 33/110 – 30%
25-29’ 0/4 – 0% 5/175 – 25.7% 115/296 – 38.9%
30’+ 0/2 – 0% 0/2 – 0% 3/18 – 17%
As you can see, Simmons is one-dimensional when it comes to scoring, and when it comes to the success of the 76ers the way they have currently constituted their team, his lack of range is a liability. Because if he is reliant on being with ten feet of the hoop to be an effective NBA player, it essentially negates the advantage of having a player like Embiid, who should be playing down low as a 7’ 250 lb force. The problem this creates is that Embiid is forced to play like a guard, when that is certainly not his skill set, whereas Simmons is a small forward who likes to play like a center. What do I mean by this? Simmons put up exactly six shots from 3-point range this season, hitting zero. Embiid, on the other hand, made a whopping 79…but he took 263 shots from beyond the arc. Joel Embiid is not a three-point threat, no matter how much his actions might make it seem like thinks he is. Look, I know that the three-point shot is a huge part of the game, and everyone puts shots up from all over the court, always expecting to make them (I’m looking at you Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving) so you have to play the entire floor when you’re guarding them. Simmons is the exception to that rule.
WHY IT DOESN’T WORK
Basic NBA strategy breaks down to having players who can space the floor by having the range to shoot from pretty much anywhere in the offensive zone while having athletic big men down low to protect the rim and get rebounds. Simmons is a detriment to this. As they proved in the playoffs Simmons and Embiid are good enough with a decent supporting cast that they can win a playoff series, but as soon as they match up against a team with a big man who can negate Embiid’s supposedly unstoppable presence (see Horford, Al) the team falls apart. This is why they went all-in, acquiring Jimmy Butler from Minnesota and then when it was obvious that he wasn’t enough to put them over the top, they were forced to go get Tobias Harris from the Clippers as well.
Because of this, I do not believe, like some analysts do, that the 76ers are built to be a force in the NBA’s Eastern Conference for years to come, at least not as currently constituted. If they were to trade Simmons or Embiid but keep Butler and Harris, they might have a year or two. JJ Redick isn’t getting any younger (he’s 34) and the fact that he is as good a shooter as he is, coupled with the fact that both Butler and Harris can spread the floor is the only reason that the 76ers were able to win 51 games.
Ben Simmons is not a good shooter and I think I’ve proven that. However, he is a very good defender and his athleticism and length allow him to get away with a little more than other players because he has such a wide radius of a defensive zone that he can seemingly be beaten by an offensive player but still alter the shot due to his long arms and speed. He is an elite passer as well, he has very good court vision. But shooting and offense are what drives this league. Sure he can score a lot here and there, but his lack of range is a huge albatross around his neck.
This season Simmons averaged under 17 points per game, fewer than 9 rebounds – 16.9 and 8.8 to be exact. If he’s supposed to be this untouchable, untradeable superstar, why the poor stats? Don’t give me the excuse of having other superstars on his team, because Kevin Durant averaged 26 points per game, and 6.4 rebounds despite playing on the perimeter more of the time. Also, if he’s constantly playing so close the basket, why doesn’t he get more rebounds? When 97% of your offensive game takes place within 15 feet of the basket, you should at least average double-digit rebounds. He only averages 2.2 offensive rebounds per game! That’s insane! How can someone who is 6’ 10” and practically lives within five feet of the basket – remember that 682 or his 960 total shots came from 0-4 feet from the hoop- not get more than 2.2 offensive rebounds per game? And people consider him a superstar? Giannis averaged the same, to be fair, but he also took more shots from that range and scored a higher percentage of the time, also Giannis doesn’t live inside 15 feet- he’s actually better from 10-19 feet (40.8%) than he is between 5-9 feet (30.7%)!
Embiid might be the better player, but he’s also got a much smaller sample size due to his repeated injuries. He played 31 games in 2016-2017, 63 games the following season, and 64 this season. In those three seasons, he’s played 158 games while missing 89 over three years. When you miss roughly 30 games per year you clearly cannot be trusted to carry a franchise. I don’t care if he averages 24 points per game and 11.4 rebounds. If your second-best player is a guy who can’t shoot and forces a center to play like a guard, one of them has to go. Personally, I would bet that a player could learn to shoot more than I would expect an injury-plagued player to suddenly become more durable. If the 76ers really want to be something other than a good regular season team and actually become a threat in the playoffs and a perennial championship contender, they should trade Embiid and hope that Simmons somehow figures out how to put the ball in the basket from outside of ten feet.
Until then, any success the 76ers experience will be in spite of Simmons and Embiid, not because of them.