That certainly will be the case again this offseason, after Simmons melted down at the foul line — and disappeared from Philadelphia’s offense — as the 76ers collapsed and bowed out of the playoffs in seven games to the Atlanta Hawks.
But not even 24 hours after his team’s season was over, 76ers coach Doc Rivers said Monday that he believes this summer for Simmons will be different. Why? Because, according to Rivers, not only is Simmons willing to do the work, but the Sixers have a plan to address his shooting woes that will involve doing “the right work,” and doing it “the right way.”
“I believe, without going into detail with what we’re doing, I believe we know what the right work is, and the right type of work, and the right way to do it,” Rivers said, when asked why this offseason will be different as far as Simmons and his shooting goes.
“You can do the work all the time. But if it’s not done in the right way and the right type of work, you may not improve. After being here for a year, I really do believe we’ve identified what and how, and now we have to do the do part. We have to work to do it. It’s not going to be an easy job. But it’s definitely a job that Ben can do.”
History would seem to cast doubt on Rivers’ belief in Simmons to change his broken shot. Ever since he stepped onto a court in a Sixers uniform at the start of the 2017-18 NBA season, Simmons has shown plenty of prodigious gifts, from his size and athleticism to excellent passing to being one of the league’s most versatile defensive players.
It’s a package that has led to Simmons being named to three All-Star teams, an All-NBA team and the 2018 Rookie of the Year award. It’s also one that has noticeably lacked an outside shot. And while that has often revolved around Simmons being an unwilling 3-point shooter, in these playoffs it saw Simmons go from being a 60% foul shooter in the regular season, where he has been each of his four NBA seasons, to 34.2% in the postseason.
“I ain’t shoot well from the line this series,” Simmons said in the wake of that Game 7 loss Sunday night. “Offensively, I wasn’t there. I didn’t do enough for my teammates. … There’s a lot of things that I need to work on.”
And, according to Rivers, he said the team has to make Simmons a more confident foul shooter this offseason — and, if that can happen, everything else will fall into place.
“We’re not hiding that Ben has to become a better free throw shooter, and a more confident free throw shooter,” Rivers said. “If that happens, I really believe a lot of other parts of his game follows. I said that, if you remember, before the season started. First thing I said was, “We got to get him to the line 10 times a night.” And to want to get to the line 10 times a night. So we’ve got to put in work so he can get there. But if we can get him there, man, his game goes to a different level.”
Rivers also made waves in the immediate aftermath of Philadelphia’s loss when he said “I don’t know” in response to a question about whether Simmons can be a championship-level point guard.
Monday, Rivers tried to backtrack a bit on that sentiment, repeatedly saying he believes in Simmons, and has confidence he can make the necessary improvements to help the Sixers get where they want to go, and shake off the devastating disappointment that was losing this series to the Hawks after finishing the regular season with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“I am positive in Ben,” Rivers said. “I’m very bullish on Ben still. But there’s work. There’s work. There is. And Ben will be willing to do it. Sometimes you have to go through stuff to see it, and be honest with it.
“Obviously what Ben just went through … I can’t imagine that. Because he has so much greatness in all the things around him that he does, and there’s areas he can fix quickly, in my opinion, and get better, that will take him to another level. And, you know, sometimes you don’t know why you’re in different places, you know what I mean? But this may be one of them, and I look at this as a great challenge, but definitely a doable one.”