The 76ers began trusting the process dating back to the Sam Hinkie era, but based on a lackluster performance against the Hawks and comments from franchise cornerstone Joel Embiid and coach Doc Rivers following Game 7, it appears there is less faith in three-time All-Star Ben Simmons than ever before, and a change of scenery could loom.
During Philadelphia’s seven-game series with Atlanta, Simmons failed to take a fourth-quarter shot in five of the seven games and became a late-game liability by shooting a dismal 15-for-45 at the foul line.
After Philadelphia’s third exit in the semifinals in the past four seasons, HoopsHype polled four NBA executives for their thoughts on whether the 76ers should trade Simmons, a two-time All-Defensive player, and if he could bring back a star player that’s a better fit as part of a package with the hope of advancing past the semifinals for the first time since 2001.
“I’d give him one more year and work hard on his free throw shooting and offensive game over the summer,” one NBA executive told HopsHype. “A pull-up mid-range jumper. His three-point shooting is a few years away if he ever gets it. You can’t rush things with him, he’s a mental midget right now with his shooting confidence. Not politically correct, but I couldn’t come up with anything else.”
As the executive brutally alluded to, Simmons passed up a dunk attempt after beating Danilo Gallinari on a spin move in the post and passed to Matisse Thybulle with 3:29 remaining.
“I mean, I’ll be honest,” Embiid said after Game 7. “I thought the turning point was when we – I don’t know how to say it – but I thought the turning point was just we had an open shot, and we made one free throw, and we missed the other and then they came down and scored.”
Simmons, who is owed nearly $147 million over the next four seasons, was later pulled from Game 7 for the final 54 seconds of play with the 76ers down by four points due to his lack of three-point and foul shooting ability.
“He’s not the perfect fit with Embiid,” the second NBA executive told HoopsHype. “Other players could complement Embiid better. Simmons is difficult to build a team around and is not good enough to be the central figure. I think the lack of free-throw shooting does hurt his value. I’d explore a trade. Guys like Damian Lillard and Bradley Beal are two levels better than Simmons.”
With a minimum of 70 free-throw attempts, Simmons’ 34.2 free throw percentage this postseason is the worst in NBA playoffs history, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
“I didn’t shoot well from the line this series,” Simmons acknowledged following Game 7. “Offensively, I wasn’t there. I didn’t do enough for my teammates. There are a lot of things I need to work on.”
For more context of how much Simmons’ free throw shooting hindered the 76ers, he missed more free throws in the playoffs (48) than the Phoenix Suns (29) and the Brooklyn Nets (28), as noted by StatMuse.
“Ben’s lack of ability in the playoffs is a concern,” the third NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He’s good enough to get you to the playoffs and have a solid regular season, but the playoffs can be challenging for him as the game slows down and people’s weaknesses are exposed, which hurts the team. I’d explore a trade to see if I could get a couple of win-now players that fit the way they need to play with Embiid. A point guard or a wing that both can create shots for others and themselves.”
When asked if he wanted to remain a 76er, Simmons didn’t hesitate to express his love for the team even though fans were outside the area burning his jersey after his poor performance.
However, Rivers gave mixed reviews when talking about Simmons as a player and his future.
First, the Sixers head coach said, “Obviously, he struggled from the free-throw line, and that became a factor in this series. There’s no doubt about that. I still believe in him, but we have work to do. We’re going to have to get in the gym, put a lot of work in, and go forward.”
Later, when asked if Simmons can still be a point guard for a championship team, Rivers replied, “I don’t know the answer to that right now.”
The fourth executive believes both of Rivers’ statements can be true and Simmons could find success with Philadelphia with a position change.
“I’m not sure I’d trade him, but I’d make him a power forward and get a point guard,” the fourth NBA executive told HoopsHype. “Ben has totally disappeared. He needs to be more aggressive, especially in the playoffs. He’s content getting assists, rebounds, and defending, but to win in the playoffs they need more from him. He should be putting pressure on the opposing defense.”
After his name was brought up in the James Harden talks earlier this season, Simmons will hear his name come up in trade talks again this summer. In the meantime, he’ll take the summer to get his “mental right” as he said after Game 7 and work on his foul shooting and jumper overall.
MORE: Sixers offseason preview: Three decisions facing Philadelphia
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto