Ben Simmons posted a polarizing stat line in Game 1 of the Philadelphia 76ers’ first-round series against the Washington Wizards. Simmons became just the sixth player ever to record 15 assists and 15 rebounds in a playoff game, and he played some stellar defense on Wizards All-Star guard Bradley Beal. But, he also finished the game with six total points and became just the sixth player in the shot clock era to go 0-6 or worse from the foul line in a playoff game.
Afterward, some pundits praised Simmons’ ability to crash the glass and set up his teammates, while others criticized his lack of point production and his inability to knock down free throws. When Sixers coach Doc Rivers was asked about the varying perspectives of Simmons’ performance he echoed a message that he has said all season.
“If you guys don’t know the treasure you have by now, then shame on everyone because he’s been fantastic for us,” Rivers said of Simmons. “He creates points every single night for us. When Ben was on the floor, we were really good… I’m amazed that people don’t see what he does.”
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Rivers is right about the fact that the Sixers were really good when Simmons was on the floor in Game 1, as Simmons was a +18 in the 38 minutes that he played. The Sixers as a team were a -11 during the minutes that he didn’t play.
“We’re so caught up in the amount of points he scored,” Rivers said. “What if Ben had all 125? Would we be mad that Joel [Embiid] didn’t score? Who cares who scores as long as we’re scoring… When Ben plays, we score more points.”
Rivers has remained consistent with what he has said about Simmons’ shooting and scoring all season. If he’s bluffing about his true feelings on the situation, he certainly has a good poker face. In December, before the season even started, Rivers had this to say about Simmons:
“I don’t care about Ben’s shooting as much as so many other people seem to care about it. I care that he’s a great player. I’m going to let him play. I’m going to give him the keys and let him be free and play. If he takes no shots, I’m fine. If he takes 10 3s, I’m fine. If he gets to the line 15 times, I’m fine. Ben is brilliant enough for me to allow him to play and not get in his way and try to cloud his head up with a bunch of crap. It’s about winning, and that’s what I want Ben to focus on, how to make each other better and win.”
Then, when he was asked about a dip in Simmons’ scoring production early in the season, Rivers’ stance didn’t waiver. “I could care less,” Rivers replied when asked how he felt about Simmons’ hesitancy to shoot in late December. “I’ll let you guys talk about what Ben doesn’t do. I just want Ben to keep playing great defense, running our team, and winning games.”
While some pontificate on point production. Rivers cares about winning, and Simmons has shown to be a positive player over the course of his career to this point. The Sixers have made the playoffs in each of the four seasons since Simmons debuted in the NBA, and he has been selected as an All-Star on three separate occasions by the league’s coaches. He’s not a perfect player, but he contributes to winning in a big way for Philadelphia. Unsurprisingly, Simmons’ teammates also had his back after Game 1 against Washington.
“I love Ben’s game,” George Hill said. “What I can say is he that shouldn’t give two craps about what you guys say, what other people say, what the media says, or what other people on the outside looking in say. He has a job here, and he does a great job doing it.
“There are nights where he can score a lot of points and there are nights where he’s doing other things to impact the game to help us win,” Hill added. “He scored six points with 15 assists and 15 rebounds. If anybody else does that, you guys are congratulating him for having a great game.”
Rivers’ comments certainly don’t mean that Simmons should be satisfied with an 0-6 performance from the foul line because he obviously needs to improve in that area. If he’s unable to step up to the line and knock down shots, opponents will foul him on purpose down the stretch of games — like they used to do with Shaq — and the Sixers can’t afford to hide him on the bench in those situations because they desperately need his defense and playmaking out on the floor.
So, while no one is asking Simmons to morph into Steph Curry overnight, he does need to get it together from the charity stripe. On the season, he shot 61 percent from the line, so it’s likely that his Game 1 0fer was an anomaly and not a new norm. Outside of that though, perhaps more people should follow Rivers’ lead and focus on all of the positive things that Simmons does on the court, rather than focusing on a few flaws.