Following a wire-to-wire dismemberment of the Cleveland Cavaliers on December 7 — a game in which his third-year point guard posted a monstrous line of 34 points, seven assists, hitting 9-of-12 free throws and 1-of-1 from 3-point range — Sixers head coach Brett Brown leveled his most pointed demand of Ben Simmons to date:
Brett Brown on Ben Simmons: “You can pass this along to his agent, his family, his friends and him: I want one 3-point shot a game minimum... And the mentality where he’s turning corners and trying to dunk or finish tight will equal higher efficiency.” pic.twitter.com/FyJVlN7KhK— Rich Hofmann (@rich_hofmann) December 8, 2019
The wording was especially significant. “His agent,” of course, is Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Group. Paul is one of the most powerful figures in the NBA, let alone one of the most influential agents in sports. His allegiance with LeBron James no doubt engineered the most recent mega-star trade when Anthony Davis was dealt over the summer to LeBron’s Lakers. Rich Paul is a master puppeteer and also extremely brand conscious.
Brett Brown’s comments were simple: enough is enough. We need you to shoot. Much of Ben Simmons’ aversion to range shooting has been hypothesized by many as a refusal to do something that he might not be very good at on a consistent basis. As we’ve seen in his two actual (non-heave) 3-point attempts this season, Simmons is certainly capable enough from deep to warrant at least an attempt per game, as Brown requested. For a Sixers team that ranks toward the bottom of the league in volume 3-point shooting, the team needs all it can get from each member of its roster. Teams built around post centers like Joel Embiid need to avoid congestion as best as possible, and Simmons attempting 3s consistently would only help that cause.
So, you may be asking, how did Ben Simmons respond to Brett Brown’s explicit demand of his game?
He hasn’t attempted a true 3-pointer since.
This is a bad look for the player and also for the coach. To have such a pointed desire fall on the deaf ears of his max player/star point guard, it points to at least some level of disconnect between the player and coach with a long shared history.
The thing about Ben Simmons is that he’s excellent at basketball. He’s anomalous and positionless. He’s an absolute terror in transition, one of the best passers in the game, and this year, has comported himself as a true Defensive Player of the Year candidate. But his flaw is eminently visible. When the Sixers are winning, it’s easy to brush past. But when they lose, as they have their last three contests, you get quotes like this from Joel Embiid:
Lot of talk at the practice facility today about accountability and so forth. Mostly good stuff.— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) January 2, 2020
Here's Joel Embiid on the offensive struggles — doesn't seem that hard to read between the lines: pic.twitter.com/KXHRckuJFH
In order for the Sixers to reach their ceiling this year, growth is required from everyone involved. Growth is uncomfortable. Sacrificing comfort for the ultimate goal is the reason you see Joel Embiid and Al Horford shooting more 3s than they’re accustomed to, or Tobias Harris guarding small forwards full-time.
The Sixers are now demanding, publicly, that Ben Simmons sacrifice just the same.