Ben Simmons has become a leading topic around the sports world for the past week after he became the focal point of the Sixers’ collapse against the Hawks. Simmons is an easy target, as his shortcomings are the most obvious of any in basketball, because his greatest weakness is that he can’t (and won’t) shoot the ball.
That came into focus with him posting four straight fourth quarters without a single field goal attempt, with his refusal to take a wide open dunk in Game 7 serving as the shining example of his issues. Many have pointed out that Simmons seems to have a mental block, but Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, as he so often is, was extremely direct in pointing out what he sees as what is holding Simmons back in a way that others who struggle shooting are able to move past — citing Giannis Antetokounmpo as an example — in a recent interview with Tyler R. Tynes of GQ.
You guys have been looking at Ben Simmons for five years now? And you can say this to Stephen A. Smith, too: Y’all know he can’t shoot. Y’all know he don’t look to shoot in the fourth quarter. You know he’s afraid to go to the foul line, he don’t wanna be humiliated, so what are you asking me? I’m not against Ben Simmons. But I think he is who he is.
I watched a lot of games that Doc [Rivers] shouldn’t have had him in, in the fourth quarter. If I give you a deck of cards and I give you a deuce of heart and a deuce of diamond, and we playing Spades, why you keep grabbing those cards when you know you’re gonna lose in that category? This kid been this way the whole time and Doc brought him in and set him up for failure. He been like this! And you guys know he been like this. And Doc kept putting him in the game, he kept letting that team do fouls on him. Take him out the game! The Lakers did it with Shaq, and he’s bigger and more dominant and probably more fearless than Ben Simmons. Doc made him be a failure.
He’s still a good basketball player. That’s his weakness: shooting the basketball. If you take that away from Ben Simmons, he got no weakness. That’s Giannis’ weakness, too. But, Giannis don’t mind being humiliated. That’s the difference between him and Ben Simmons. Giannis will go to the free throw line and shoot two fucking airballs and come right down the court the next time and try and dunk on you. If Ben Simmons miss a free throw, he gonna start passing it before he get to the free throw line on the other end. He didn’t even wanna cross half court with the basketball because he was so afraid of being humiliated going to that foul line. That’s why he didn’t try to make that dunk at the end of the game. He’s been doing it all year, bro.
You’d be hard pressed to make a real argument against Pippen’s point here, as Simmons certainly seems to want nothing to do with the possibility of free throws in late game situations. The Giannis point is a really interesting one, because it is the closest thing we have to similar star-level player in the NBA. Giannis can be stubborn and defiant to the point of being a detriment to the Bucks with his shooting, but that’s a better problem to have than someone who won’t even attack the rim for fear of getting fouled. As Pippen notes, Simmons is an excellent player, but there are going to be situations where he just might not be able to be out there if he’s not going to push through the possibility of being humiliated at the free throw line.
That’s an understandable thing to want to avoid — no person wants to be embarrassed — but figuring out how to push past it and not let it take you out of your game completely is a necessary step for Simmons to ever break through this current ceiling that seems to be on him. Pippen uses more colorful language and is more direct about it than most would be, but that’s kind of the beauty of having him speak on things. The entire interview is great, as they dive into his relationship with Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, and much more.