Ben Simmons Skipping the Olympics is the Wrong Decision

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday afternoon, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski confirmed that Ben Simmons won’t play in the Summer Olympics. It was something that had been rumored and reported but never officially confirmed until this point.

Citing Ben’s agent, Rich Paul, Woj said the Sixers’ All-Star “plans to concentrate his summer on individual development and Team Australia is understanding of the decision.”

It’s the wrong choice for a number of reasons, namely the fact that Ben has spent the several offseasons on “individual development” with little to show for it. We’ve seen myriad Instagram videos of good-looking three pointers and other gym work, and none of it has translated to the court in terms of significant steps forward. Ben has improved over the years as a screener/roller and facilitator, but his offensive improvements are marginal, and in areas where he was already damn good as a rookie. Hence the frustration from Sixers fans, who see greatness in a guy that has yet to reach his incredibly-high ceiling.

There’s a portion of coaches and trainers out there who will tell you that no amount of gym work can replicate what you get from live ball reps. That’s what Ben would have had in Tokyo, playing for Team Australia. The Boomers are in Group B with Nigeria and two teams yet to qualify, and Simmons would get three group games + more on a squad that is highly likely to advance to the end stages of the tournament. He’d also get three exhibition tune-up games in Las Vegas, in preparation for the tournament. He’d get a change of scenery and remove himself from the pressures of Philadelphia, but put himself in an environment where there would still be high-stakes, high-leverage basketball being played. He’d share the floor with NBA country mates like Joe Ingles, Aron Baynes, and Patty Mills.

Mills, the 32-year-old Spurs guard, is one of the respected veterans on that team, and he spoke about Ben’s decision not to participate, saying this:

That’s a really thoughtful response. Mills is a next-level thinker and “good people,” as Brett Brown used to say.

In addition, head coach Brian Goorjian said this of the decision:

“I have spoken with Ben and whilst we wanted him to be a part of our team, we understand and support his decision and he has made it clear that this is something that he wants to be a part of in the future.

“It is a pretty rough time for him right now and I know it is something that he wanted to do, but the timing just hasn’t worked.”

So what do we get instead? More 5v5 gym videos? More 30-second Instagram clips? Unless a trainer is gonna be in there 12 hours a day teaching Ben to shoot with his right hand instead of his left, then what can he possibly learn that he hasn’t already tried before? And if the changes are that significant, and require this much dedication, then do the previous three summers count as malpractice? Unless Ben is in a gym all summer long with prime Jordan and Wilt, I don’t see what he’s getting out of closed-door sessions where nothing is on the line. We’ve been down this road before.

Plus, the biggest need for him right now is showing he can influence the game in specific situations. Fourth quarter, meaningful basketball. Static, non-transition, half court sets. Is Goorjian putting him in the dunker spot with the game tied at 102 and 30 seconds on the clock?

Guess we won’t find out, and playing in Tokyo would have checked that curious box. Go join your national team and represent Australia. Play for a different coach with different teammates in a different environment, against competition that’s decent, but not NBA-level. Relieve yourself of the constant attention and scrutiny that takes place here in Philadelphia, and absorb a different set of expectations. Go make a confidence-boosting run with a team that went to the Semifinals at the 2016 Olympics and 2019 FIBA World Cup, but isn’t expected to win this thing.

This would have been a positive experience for Simmons. A different experience. With a good tournament, he could have shown everybody around the world that’s he taken the next step and perhaps gotten over the hump, but since he’s decided to lock himself in a gym instead, nobody knows what we’re going to see until he reports to Philadelphia for training camp.

It just feels like another missed opportunity.

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