Spike Eskin isn’t Wrong About Ben Simmons

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Photo Credit: Adam Hunger/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

If Howard Eskin is “The King,” then would his son be the prince?

A question for another time.

In this story, I’m going to go ahead and agree with Spike’s miniature postgame Sixers rant:

I don’t spot any lies. Do you?

Ben Simmons is, indeed, largely the same player on offense that he was as a rookie. Four games isn’t much of a sample size, but in this brief time period he is putting up 15.7 points per 36 minutes, which is a career low. He is turning the ball over 4.4 times per, which is a career high. Eleven field goals per 36 is a career low, 6.6 assists is a career low, and his free throw percentage is back down below 60%.

The positive thing is that he’s getting to the line more, eight times per game, and the defense he brings on a consistent basis is borderline elite.

But on the other end of the floor not much has changed. He’s still driving, leaving his feet, picking up his dribble, and dishing it out to a teammate. He’s still failing to take the extra dribble and embrace contact at the rim. He’s not shooting the ball. The same habits and the same style of play are there.

Doc Rivers, much like Brett Brown, is publicly taking the “kick the can down the road” approach when he drops postgame quotes like these:

“I want to win. I swear – and someone taught me this long ago – that you win the game and keep winning games. You don’t worry about where or who scores. Ben missed some great shots (Tuesday night). If he had converted two or three of those layups and gotten to the foul line a little bit more, he would have been fine.

I could care less; I’ll let you guys talk about what Ben doesn’t do. I just want Ben to keep playing defense, running our team, and winning games.”

Yeah, and that’s all good and well. Ben is a really good player. But he’s the same player, and when you look around the league, guys like Brandon Ingram and Jaylen Brown and Jamal Murray, who were also top-10 2016 draft picks, have refined their offensive games and continue to evolve. They’ve reached the next tier.

Spike is right when he explains it this way, in a story at the 94 WIP/Radio.com website:

“Ben Simmons isn’t positionless because he’s so versatile, he’s positionless because he doesn’t have the requisite skills to excel at any one position. He can’t protect the rim on defense, so he can’t play center. He doesn’t shoot corner threes, so he can’t really be a power forward or a small forward. His ball handling and shooting aren’t good enough to play point guard or shooting guard.

Ben Simmons is a really good player, but he’s a luxury, a complementary piece on a great team. The Sixers are not in a position to take advantage of that luxury. They aren’t a great team and overpaying for a complementary piece does not make any sense when they don’t have the core players necessary. I won’t bore you with a list, but I casually went through NBA rosters and found nearly 60 players who would make the current Sixers better than Simmons does, simply because their skill set would better complement Embiid.”

Agreed, and look, the Crossing Broad camp was mostly split on trading Ben Simmons. My take was always that I thought you’d bring in another coach and give him a shot at unlocking this potential before breaking up Simmons and Embiid. There’s still plenty of time for Rivers to make it work, but when he comes out and says he doesn’t care, that’s the same approach Brett Brown initially took, and it’s bothersome. It pinches Thoracic nerves that are still aggravated and raw. Maybe Doc feels differently behind the scenes, but regardless of what we’re told in public settings, Ben’s offensive game needs to evolve in some fashion, or they’re going to run into the same half court postseason issues they had in 2018 and 2019.

We over-think this topic frequently, but the bottom line is this –

Ben Simmons with a jump shot is a better player. And he’s not adding the jump shot at the expense of anything else in his arsenal. I think that’s an important point that falls by the wayside. Ben with a jump shot can still be a great passer, rebounder, and defender. He can still run the floor in transition and deflect passes and block shots. It’s not about changing his DNA as a basketball player, it’s about taking that excellent foundation and continuing to build on it.

In 2020, four years later, we’re still looking at the foundation. It’s a good foundation, with a very nice concrete pour, but the structure is not yet finished.

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