By: Ryan Waterman
It wasn't even two months ago, that the Sixers completed their "star-hunting" mission, and ignited the championship aspirations of their fan base, by acquiring all-star forward Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves
Following the acquisition of Butler, the Sixers looked like they belonged in the conversation of the elite teams in the NBA, they finally looked like they belonged in the same breath as the Celtics, Raptors, Thunder, and Rockets. Championship hopes became expectations among fans, and basketball sprung to the forefront of a championship-starved city, in the midst of what ended up being a bizarre Eagles season.
Fast-forward to the last day of 2018, and the feel is a little bit different. The fan base has quieted a bit, expectations have been tempered, and while experts still put the Sixers name in the same breath as those elite organizations -- something about them just doesn't have that "elite" feel. They might sit second in the Atlantic Division, and have the seventh-best record in the league, but this team doesn't have that feel of being a championship contender. Instead, it feels as if they're destined for another early-Spring playoff exit.
The question on everyone's mind: Why?
It may not be a popular debate to engage in, but it's fair to ask -- Is Ben Simmons holding the 76ers back from joining the elite ranks? The unpopular opinion of this writer is yes, and if you'll allow me some of your time, I can explain why I believe as such.
Let's begin with the obvious elephant in the room.
Ben Simmons currently runs the point for this Sixers team. It's no secret that if you run the point, you're expected to score. Take, for example, guys such as James Harden, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, and many others. All of those names run the point for their respective squads, and sit in the top-16 in Points Per Game. Meanwhile, Ben Simmons barely ranks inside the top-60 of that same category. When you dig a little deeper, it's easy to understand why Simmons isn't more of a dominating scorer, and it has a lot to do with his shooting ability.
On the season, Simmons has attempted 36 shots this season outside of 10-feet away from the basket. Of those 36 shots, he's converted eight(!) for an anemic 22-percent. To make matters worse, he hasn't even attempted a three-point attempt this season, not that he'd be guaranteed to succeed if he did.
While it's true that Simmons has shot a rock-solid 57.8-percent from the field on the season, there's no denying the impact his lack of a jumper has on the Sixers offense. Most teams understand that the offense runs through Joel Embiid, but much like last season, game-planning against Ben Simmons limits Philadelphia's success. If you can force Simmons into mid-range situations, his complete desire to not even attempt a shot, renders him a virtual non-factor. Sending him to the charity-stripe exposes yet another flaw. Taking away his inside scoring ability, makes Simmons nothing more than a contributor in dimes and boards, thus allowing teams to focus on locking down the recently-acquired Jimmy Butler, essentially making Philly's offense a one-dimensional machine that runs through Joel Embiid.
There's no denying that Ben Simmons is an excellent player. However, to become the perennial All-Star that many expected upon his arrival in the league, he must rely on more than his basketball I.Q, his ball-handling skills, and ability to crash the boards. He needs to improve his scoring ability. For him to achieve that, he'll need to develop a somewhat-reliable jump shot. Until he does, and while many may not like what I'm about to say, the Sixers will still sit a tier below the elite teams in the NBA, and remain on the outer-core of what a true championship contender looks like.