How the Sixers can get Ben Simmons going again vs. Raptors
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How the Sixers can get Ben Simmons going again vs. Raptors

The Philadelphia 76ers allowed a great opportunity to put the Toronto Raptors’ backs against the wall go to waste by losing Game 4.

It was a strange game considering how Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris combined to score only 27 points while shooting 9-of-30 (30%) from the field and 2-of-14 (14.3%) from deep. To make matters worse, the 76ers’ bench totaled a mere 11 points.

There has been far too much inconsistency from Embiid throughout the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals for Ben Simmons to not shoulder more of a playmaking load. Embiid has been contained to averages of only 13 points (28.1% FG, 14.3% 3P) and 7.3 rebounds against the Raptors aside from his performance with 33 points and 10 rebounds in Game 3.

What has been said about Embiid has been even more the case for Harris. He has failed to reach 20 points in any of his performances against the Raptors and has averaged only 13 points (34.6% FG, 31.4% 3P) in the series. He has failed to put together many strong performances so far in the playoffs and that has been beyond problematic.

An extra burden was placed on Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, and Ben Simmons to elevate their performance given that the rest of the roster was struggling to execute. Butler led the way with an impressive 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 4 assists with Redick adding 19 points. Meanwhile, Simmons recorded an efficient 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists, but it wasn’t enough.

Philadelphia needed Ben Simmons to be more aggressive given that two of their key starters were shooting poorly and their bench unit aside from James Ennis were abysmal. He seemed to try to play within the flow of the game too much and that has been part of a larger pattern from him.

Part of the problem is that Simmons’ lack of a jump shot makes things much harder for him within the half-court, especially when considering that Kawhi Leonard is the player that is primarily guarding him. He has attempted only one shot from outside of the paint during the entire playoffs and it’s going to be difficult to attempt many shots doing that.

Butler expressed his belief that Simmons needs to be more aggressive in transition situations. He even went as far as saying that Simmons must have the mindset of ‘don’t pass the ball’ when he is in the open floor and that he needs to ‘attack every single time.’

“If you ask Ben, I tell him every time down the floor to attack. Every single time,” Butler said.  “I’m cool with, if coach calls a play and you feel like you’ve got the mismatch, by all means attack. Coach will be like, ‘Why did you do it?’ and I promise I will say that I told him to do it. I want him to be aggressive like I told Joel to be aggressive.

“Attack. We’re not gonna win without you guys. You have to be ready to attack at any point in time. Damn sure in transition. When he has the ball in transition, don’t pass the ball. Attack every single time. That’s how we’re gonna win this game.”

The topic of Simmons’ need to be more aggressive in transition continued with Brett Brown sharing his thoughts. He stated that they strong encourage Simmons to get to the rim in the open court. Brown also mentioned that there are situations when he could have made a stronger effort to finish at the rim or to at least draw contact to get to the free throw line.

“When you look at the bottom line, his most obvious strength offensively, and it’s not even close, he is a track star in the open court,” Brown said. “He is 6’10” and his length and ability to get to the rim we encourage all day, every day. It’s where he can most significantly offensively stamp his thumbprint on the game. It’s difficult in the playoffs to think that those types of opportunities, even as good as he is, are as frequent.

“I just finished watching the game. There were a few times where maybe he could have gone a step further and tried to draw contact with either a strong finish or a dunk. I don’t think it is anything that is bothersome.”

There was only one possession during Game 4 when Ben Simmons attempted a shot attempt after taking it to the basket as a transition ball handler and he failed to convert. Meanwhile, there were plenty of instances when he made an unnecessary pass in favor of going up with a shot and there is no better example than when he passed up a finish in a ‘4-on-1 situation.’

Brown shared some insight regarding how the 76ers may be able to do a better job of involving Simmons within their half-court offense. Brown noted that there could be there are times when Simmons can attack the open space as a cutter, but that they need to focus on getting him the ball in the paint when he has a mismatch on him.

“The thing that disappoints me is, me knowing what I know in regards to the volume of time that he has put in trying to improve his free throws. Pre-practice. Post-practice. Days off,” Brown said. “At times it hasn’t translated into that sort of 70% shooting that has been his goal.”

“In relation to him cutting and moving more behind the ball, at times he can do that and find open space. At times we can exploit a mismatch if somebody gets cross-matched onto him. If he has maybe Kyle [Lowry] or Danny [Green] as an example. Perhaps we can look and find more in a paint environment. I do not see any connection of the dots that relates aggressive attacking to a lack of confidence going to the line.”

The lack of impact that Simmons has provided within the half-court has been concerning. The Raptors are playing off him in a way that prompts him to not even look to finish at the basket when he tries to drive and he has come up empty against similar sized players in the post quite often.

There have been a few instances when Simmons was able to exploit mismatches when Marc Gasol in handoff situations to create favorable finishes at the rim. There is a real lack of mobility from Gasol and smaller players often do not have the strength to keep Simmons’ long strides when he turns the corner to get downhill.

Toronto has often packed the paint when Simmons is playing off the ball and that has bottled up their half-court offense at times. The need for him to develop a reliable jump shot is a tired talking point, but it has been quite apparent throughout this series. He will need to find ways to transcend that deficiency or it could play a critical role in his team’s elimination.

There is a real chance for Ben Simmons to change the narrative about his performance so far in the playoffs if he can execute well and help lead Philadelphia to a pivotal Game 5 win. It will be up to him to be aggressive when the opportunities to score come his way.