Doc Rivers Wants to Change ‘Narrative’ on ‘Soft’ Sixers All-Star

Doc Rivers, Ben Simmons

Getty Sixers coach Doc Rivers has refused to call Ben Simmons "soft."

It sounds absurd to label the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year a “soft” player yet there are those who view Ben Simmons in that light. Don’t put Doc Rivers in that lens. Rivers still wants Simmons out there as his floor general.

So when a sneaky reporter tried to get the Sixers head coach to disparage his disgruntled point guard, Rivers wasn’t taking the bait. He didn’t flinch or crack a smile. Simmons was one of the toughest guys on the court last season. He’s the rare player who can guard every position, one through five. Soft? Stop it.

“I never had the word soft compared to the guy who was second in voting for Defensive Player of the Year, personally,” Rivers said at Sixers’ Media Day on Monday (Sept. 27). “Again, the offensive thing we clearly want improvement. For me, free throws. I didn’t even care about the shooting that everyone else does. I’ve seen a lot of winning teams that worked that way. That’s your own narrative about the shooting stuff.”

The “shooting stuff” Rivers referred to has been a valid concern over the past four seasons. Simmons can’t get out of his own head, especially at the free-throw line. He is 59.7% there for his career while going 5-for-34 from three-point land (14.7%). And he shot 34.2% from the charity stripe during the 2021 playoffs, accounting for the worst free throw percentage in NBA history for a player with at least 70 attempts.

“Obviously, he can improve at the free-throw line, that would be a big step,” Rivers said. “We wanted to put in work this summer and through the year. If we get him, we plan to keep working on it. I do feel that would improve his game a little bit. If Ben makes 30 threes or 1 three this year, does it change our team? No. If we score 125 points and Ben has 16 with no threes, are we concerned with how we scored them? No.”

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Simmons Compared to Rajon Rondo

Rivers has tirelessly defended Simmons’ all-around game since he arrived in Philadelphia. He’ll sacrifice a sweet outside stroke for lock-down defense.

The 59-year-old coach referenced a similar predicament with one of his favorite former players, Rajon Rondo. He is a 60.9% free-throw shooter, but the other intangibles he brings to the table are immeasurable. He was the pace-setter for the 2008 Boston Celtics team that Rivers guided to an NBA championship.

“I think he creates as many threes as anybody in the league with what he does for our team,” Rivers said of Simmons. “And I don’t understand why we don’t see that. That’s important for your basketball team. Hopefully, we get him back. The part you’ll see if we don’t is the defensive part. And our pace offensively, those are the two things that I think we miss when he’s not on the floor.”

Boosting Confidence in Press Conferences

One tactic employed by Rivers to boost Simmons’ confidence last season was to constantly defend him in press conferences. He did it to a fault in some instances, instigating contentious back-and-forth sessions with media members. Rivers used that approach on Rondo in Boston and DeAndre Jordan in Los Angeles.

Simmons? Not so much. Rivers still doesn’t know what went wrong, on the court or off it. Sixers president Daryl Morey confirmed Simmons requested a trade shortly after the NBA Combine. He and Rivers could only guess as to why the three-time All-Star wants out.

“It’s a tough answer. It wasn’t as clear as we would have wanted,” Rivers said. “You know, wanting to change places, for whatever reason. It’s tough to play here. But Ben didn’t say that, but you gotta assume that’s probably part of it. And I can’t say he said that, that’s just an assumption.”

There have been rumors of Simmons being scared to face the Philly fans again after getting booed. Maybe the young Aussie isn’t physically soft, but he sure sounds mentally weak if that is indeed true. As Joel Embiid said when discussing free agents not wanting to come to Philly, “not everybody is built the same.”

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