Although Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers expressed hope on Monday that Ben Simmons could make major strides as a shooter this offseason, the partnership between the former No. 1 overall pick and his team looks to be on shakier ground than ever.
Rivers’ confidence was noticably absent when he was asked if Simmons could lead a title-winning team one day earlier. And while he didn’t actually namecheck Simmons, Sixers star Joel Embiid similarly appeared to throw him under the bus following Philly’s Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.
Setting a record for the worst free throw shooting percentage in NBA playoff history (and doing so as a starting point guard) and retreating from an open shot at the hoop when your postseason life is on the line will have that effect.
It will also inspire fans and hoops pundits alike to go all-in on trade chatter. And, sure enough, Simmons’ name is currently burning up the trade machine like few others. Whether it’s CJ McCollum, Kyle Lowry, Zach LaVine or any of a litany of other floor generals, armchair GMs are working overtime to identify the three-time All-Star’s Sixers successor.
Not everyone is keen on raking Simmons over the coals, though. One of his teammates was even inspired to hit social media in an effort to put some respect back on his name.
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Dwight Howard Wants Everyone to Leave Ben Simmons Alone
On Monday, Sixers center Dwight Howard went live on his Instagram to discuss the Simmons situation, which is clearly of great import to him. Right out of the gate, he made it clear where he stands on the matter.
“We’ve got to talk about something,” he began the IG Live broadcast. “Something that’s been bothering me is seeing everyone slandering Ben. We’ve got to stop that.”
Howard went on to express his disappointment about what has occurred with Simmons and confirm his own support of the 24-year-old. As he sees it, Simmons is entirely undeserving of the negativity that has been directed toward him since the Sixers’ season ended.
“Send that man positivity, man. Stop telling people they can’t do something. For real,” implored Howard. “How are you gonna expect someone to get better when you just send negative energy towards them? It’s no way you can expect anything to happen great, for you or anybody else, if you just spit out negativity.”
He continued by comparing Simmons’ journey to his own, saying that it could take time for him to fully find himself as a player or bring his team a title.
“He’s still got a chance to be great. It’s never too late to be great. You can be mad at him today, you can be mad — okay, it’s cool, four years, five years, whatever. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Hell, I played for 16 years before I got a championship,” he said. “You never know.”
While Simmons is being singled out for his team’s failure to meet expectations, Howard believes that all of Philly’s players share responsibility for the shortfall.
“Ben didn’t cost us the series. It was all of us. Everyone who put on the Sixers jersey, we all won and lost together. It don’t say ‘Ben Simmons,’ it says ‘Philadelphia 76ers.’ We all took that L.”
Howard Can Relate to Simmons’ Offensive Struggles
Perhaps more than most, Howard can relate to all of the attention that has been paid to Simmons’ shortfall at the charity stripe and limited offensive game. When he was an emerging superstar, the big man was subjected to the same criticism.
Like Simmons, Howard’s individual offense has largely been limited to shots within a few feet of the hoop throughout his career. It was a popular topic when he was the tip of the spear for the Orlando Magic during the 2000s. Analysts wanted him to develop a go-to post move, a hook shot, a 10-foot jumper; anything to diversify his offensive game.
His foul shooting has also inspired a lot of discussion. For his career, Howard is a 56.6% free throw shooter.
Unfortunately, due to his position, the amount of time he’s called upon to handle the ball and the Sixers’ myriad playoff disappointments, Simmons is being held to a different standard. Whereas Magic fans likely continue to rue the day in 2012 when Howard was sent to the L.A. Lakers, Sixers fans apparently can’t wait to be rid of Simmons.