After a Game 5 loss in which he shot 4-14 from the foul line, Ben Simmons told reporters that his issues at the stripe were “mental,” and not mechanical.
It’s certainly plausible when you consider the fact that the Sixers’ All-Star shot 61.3% from the line during the regular season. That number has dipped all the way to 32.8% in the postseason, with Ben hitting just 22 of 67 free throw attempts in 10 games. He is 12-35 in this round two series.
On Thursday, following the Sixers’ film session in Atlanta, Doc Rivers was asked if he can do anything to help Simmons put it together at the line.
“Yeah I don’t know, but it is a mental game, we all know that,” the head coach said. “It’s always been that with all of these guys in the league who have struggled. I had DeAndre Jordan going through the same stuff during the playoffs and through his career. The one thing you have to do is keep working on them. You’ve got to keep trying to get into a routine that maybe you can lose the mental part, because you’ve checked into that routine. That’s hard to do right now, and so we just have to keep him working on them. That’s what he’s doing. He’s putting in the work. That’s all you can ask him to do right now. The mental stuff is hard to get rid of that easily. He’s gotta step up there and keep shooting them and we’ve got to keep supporting him.”
For some context here, Ben was a 56% free throw shooter his rookie year. He got the number up to 60% the following year, then 62.1% in his third year before seeing a slight dip this season. There was some linear growth in this category, which dropped off in 2021. Coincidentally, his best FT% was logged during his best field goal shooting season, when he was hitting at 58% from the floor.
That was always the thought, that the free throw shooting would be a gateway to field goal shooting. He took more shots and more free throws under Brett Brown and saw both numbers drop during his single season with Doc Rivers, where his FGA per game slipped to a career-low 10.1 as he embraced a role as a facilitator and defender.
Unfortunately, Simmons is alone on a disappointing pedestal, according to Tim Reynolds at The Associated Press:
…nobody in NBA playoff history, with that many attempts in single postseason, has ever been worse.
The next lowest percentage, among those with at least 67 foul shots in a postseason, is Shaquille O’Neal’s 37.4% for Miami in 2006 — when the Heat wound up winning the NBA championship anyway.
There have been, entering Thursday, 804 other instances in NBA history of a player taking at least 67 free throws in a single postseason. Of those, someone has finished below 50% only 23 times, below than 40% only five other times — three by Wilt Chamberlain, two by O’Neal.
The margin for error is slim. One more loss and the Sixers go home. A big performance from Simmons tonight and the Sixers might be coming back here for Game 7.