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Finding a middle ground with Ben Simmons

The Simmons-related debates have continued to heat up, with no sign of a common consensus anywhere.

NBA: Playoffs-Washington Wizards at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers got the job done, and defeated the Washington Wizards in Game 1 of their seven-game series, 125-118. It came down to the wire a bit, but the Sixers were in control for the majority of the game. Both Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris shined in that game, dropping 30-plus points a piece.

What some didn’t expect was the criticism to rain down on Sixers guard Ben Simmons, who was productive in many facets. He managed to drop 15 rebounds and 15 assists in Game 1, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished by a Sixer in a playoff game since the late Wilt Chamberlain back in 1967. The 15 assists achieved by Simmons were also a career-playoff-high.

While his rebounding and assist numbers were very remarkable, many focused on the points scored (or lack thereof). Simmons only managed to score six points in this game on 3-of-9 shooting from the field and 0-of-6 shooting from the free throw line. There’s been frustration building up among Sixers fans in the lack of offensive assertiveness and variety in Simmons’ offensive game.

There seem to be two definitive sides when people are discussing Ben Simmons. One side where people are completely unsatisfied with Simmons’ performances unless he scores 25-plus points, and another that relentlessly defends him regardless of performance. While most people might pick sides, I think both sides of the discussion are wrong in their respective arguments.

This lone game had me questioning where many stood in terms of their opinion on Simmons’ performance. The debate stirred up seemed to bring up takes on completely polar ends of the topic — with many people demanding that Simmons needs to drop north of 20 points per game and others focusing on the other aspects in which he excelled. What bothered me personally was the fact that there was no real “middle ground” or gray area within this conversations where it acknowledged what Simmons did well and needed to improve on. It was usually one or the other.

Yes, Ben Simmons will need to score more than six points in most playoff games for the Sixers to reach their ceiling, especially as the postseason progresses. He’ll also need to hit some free throws, which he didn’t do in that game.

I do think, however, that it is incredibly unreasonable and unfair for Simmons to be criticized and critiqued over this lone game. Ben Simmons was downright elite outside of points scored in this game, and was a huge factor in them winning. There’s a reason he was second-highest in plus/minus (plus-18) in this game outside of Joel Embiid, who played eight fewer minutes than Simmons.

If you ask any coach or player in the NBA if they’d rather have 15 points or 15 assists, they’ll almost certainly say assists. If we factor in Simmons’ 15 assists, that amounts to a bare minimum of 30 points created for the Sixers’ offense, which isn’t even counting those assisted 3-pointers in which Simmons leads the league. Remember how Harris was flat out dominating the first half in this game? A lot of his baskets came from cuts courtesy of Ben Simmons assists. He helped the Sixers’ offense hum even in the absence of Embiid foul trouble.

The fact of the matter is that the Sixers didn’t build this team for Ben Simmons to score 25 points per game. At this point in his career, we know what we’re getting with him: great all-around defense, playmaking, pushed pace, and some transition offense. Simmons has been an excellent catalyst for the Sixers alongside Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid — and the numbers show as much.

Ben Simmons is a Swiss Army knife type of player who can do a lot of things at an elite level. Through two playoff games, he’s averaging an efficient triple-double with a very impressive 5.75-to-2 assist-to-turnover ratio. The most remarkable part of all of this is the fact that Simmons is averaging these incredible numbers while chasing around one of the league’s best scorers in Bradley Beal. It’s hard to overlook his scoring numbers when he’s helping the Sixers win games.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what truly matters?

The Sixers are currently 2-0 in their first-round matchup against the Washington Wizards, and looking to go for the dagger with a 3-0 lead. Ben Simmons has been one of the biggest factors in their achievements in both games and has performed his role well. Yes, Ben Simmons will need to score more than six points in most postseason games. Yes, Ben Simmons will need to hit free throws at a decent rate. There’s nobody that knows this better than Doc Rivers, the Sixers, and Ben Simmons himself.

Ben Simmons has been an incredible player to watch during his tenure in Philadelphia. While some may find the (lack of) scoring frustrating, we can also appreciate and accept the player he is right now. He does a lot well, and like most players, he can improve on some skills or approaches. When discussing Ben Simmons, I implore you all to find some middle ground when discussing him, where we can openly appreciate the things he does well and be honest with those things he needs to improve. Take the extra criticism and apply it to another area worthwhile, like the Sixers’ horrid cream jerseys this season.

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