Sixers’ Ben Simmons Draws Questionable Comparison to Former MVP

Ben Simmons, right, of the Sixers

Getty Ben Simmons, right, of the Sixers

It is a nice thought. Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is a world-beating, athletic 7-footer, a two-time NBA MVP and a guy who has the toughness and grit to shoot his way through a slump. Remember when Antetokounmpo airballed a free throw in Game 2 in the first quarter of the Finals this summer? All he did after that was keep attacking the rim and forcing Phoenix to foul him, shooting 16 free throws from the second quarter on.

He made 10 of them.

According to Marcus Hayes, columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Sixers have their own Antetokounmpo on the payroll (sometimes, at least): Ben Simmons. Antetokounmpo was in town to face Philadelphia on Tuesday night.

Here’s how Hayes wrote it:

Simmons’ best comparison isn’t LeBron James, or even Magic Johnson. Like Giannis, Ben’s a prototype for today’s NBA — long-limbed, agile, explosive, with deft ballhandling skills. He’s a slightly smaller, better-passing version of Giannis. But their end-to-end speed, their ability to finish after taking their first steps 20 feet away from the basket, and their marvelous defensive instincts and skill sets them apart. You have to wonder if Doc, and team president Daryl Morey, don’t look across the floor and see what Ben could become.

‘Fearlessness’ Not the Only Simmons-Antetokounmpo Difference

Hayes goes on to point out that the big difference between Antetokounmpo and Simmons is “fearlessness,” and there is some truth to that—Simmons, dealing with struggles shooting free throws, or shooting in general, does not respond with the determination that Antetokounmpo has. Instead, he chooses simply to not shoot.

But the differences go a lot deeper. Antetokounmpo is a more naturally gifted player, an explosive big guy with point-guard handles whose athleticism is almost unmatched in the NBA. Simmons is a great passer and solid rebounder, but he is a tier below Antetokounmpo when it comes to athleticism.

And there is the issue of work ethic. Antetokounmpo arrived in the NBA, from Greece by way of Nigeria, hungry for success. He worked for that success, improving his individual game every summer. He was raw when he reached the NBA in 2013, a skinny teenager who could attack the basket but did not have a reliable jumper.

Simmons has never improved. He arrived in the NBA as the No. 1 pick in 2017, after a year off to rehab a foot injury, and won Rookie of the Year with 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists. It could be argued that was Simmons’ best season—his numbers have been virtually unchanged in four seasons since. It was his most aggressive. Simmons averaged 12.3 shots per game as a rookie, most of his career.

Simmons Unlikely to Change Going Forward

Now, of course, Simmons is 25 and it is unlikely he is going to have some sort of awakening of his work ethic that will vault him into Antetokounmpo’s realm. The way he has conducted himself in the past four months, going back to the Sixers’ shocking playoff upset at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks, has put him about as far from Antetokounmpo on the NBA player scale as can be.

Simmons has held out of training camp, demanding a trade. Once that ploy did not work, he showed up in Philly but put in only a halfhearted effort. Now, he is still refusing to play for mental health issues.

Hayes, for one, suggested there is hope that Simmons could yet change the trajectory of his career.

“(Antetokounmpo) was defiant,” Hayes wrote, quoting Rivers. “Maybe one day Ben will share that trait. Maybe his sessions with therapists will help him take this next step in the evolution of his game, and his life.”

It is a nice thought, turning Simmons into Antetokounmpo. But it is almost certainly not happening.

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