Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons is just too limited to lead his own team

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

While Ben Simmons is incredibly talented, even his best game of the season wasn’t enough to breeze the Philadelphia 76ers past the lowly Charlotte Hornets.

As the Philadelphia 76ers‘ season begins to wind down, it’s hard not to look back at last March and the team’s 15 game win streak to close out the regular season.

With Joel Embiid out with an orbital fracture (thanks Markelle Fultz), Brett Brown tailored his scheme around Ben Simmons‘ incredibly unique skill set and crafted an offensive assault that was as fast as it was potent.

However, flash forward a year, and it’s clear another 15 game streak is not in the cards for your friendly neighborhood Sixers.

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Granted, part of that has to do with there only being 16 games left to play this season and a pair of bouts against the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks still on the schedule, but still, unlike last season, when the team used Embiid’s absence as almost a rallying cry, this season’s team collapses without their unquestioned leader on the court.

Case and point, the team’s 106-99 win against the Charlotte Hornets.

Facing off against one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference, in a game where Kemba Walker only played six minutes in the first half no less, the lead changed 22 times, forcing Brown to overplay his starters (save Amir Johnson) yet again.

But this wasn’t your typical phone in job against a lesser foe, like in the Sixers’ 118-114 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this month, no, this was a game where J.J. Redick hit seven 3-pointers (and 10 rebounds), and Simmons recorded one of his best stat lines of the season with 28 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and a steal in 38 minutes of action.

That, unfortunately, is the problem with having Simmons as the Sixers’ focal point: He’s just too strange to be a team’s marquee player.

As Alaa Abdelnaby and Marc Zumoff will quickly point out, Simmons does a lot of things very, very well and possesses a skill set the likes of which we’ve never seen distilled together into a single player, but his limitations are equally staggering.

Simmons may be the most athletically gifted big man in league history, and is among the fastest players in the league right now, regardless of what position you classify him at. However, if Simmons doesn’t score in the first few seconds of a shot clock, either in the fastbreak or before a defense has time to set itself, his chances of scoring a bucket are diminished considerably.

Actually, that might be an understatement.

While Simmons’ jumpshot is slowly coming along, at this point, his set offense is equivalent to that of a green center; relegated to the dunker spot with a scoring radius stuck to the paint.

The same could also be said for Simmons’ defense, an element of his game that typically receives glowing praise.

At times, Simmons looks like a lockdown 1-5 defender tailormade for the NBA’s new switchable fronts, capable of covering Walker one play, and Miles Bridges the next, but in other contests, Simmons has to be ‘hidden’ on defense, forcing other players to take harder matchups.

Now again, this isn’t just a Simmons problem, as Embiid was notoriously hidden on Marcus Morris in the Sixers’ Eastern Conference Semi-Finals bout against the Boston Celtics after having his lunch thoroughly eaten by Al Horford play-after-play, but still, for a player whose main calling cards are speed, athleticism, and size, it’s hard to watch Simmons disappear on the defensive end of the court.

But really, that’s not a knock against Simmons’ potential, more an unfortunate side effect of the modern NBA.

Need proof? Look no further than the New Orleans Pelicans, who have all but squandered the Anthony Davis-era and will be looking for a new identity sooner than later. Davis has a much more polished offensive game with a similarly flexible game, and the Pelicans have garnered a .44 winning percentage over his tenure.

While Simmons can be a focal point for the Sixers moving forward for years to come, he’s simply not a polished enough player to be the focal point of a team. But on a team like the Philadelphia 76ers, with players like Embiid, Redick, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris filling out the starting five, he doesn’t have to be. Because Elton Brand has masterfully built a team toploaded with enough talent to matchup with any team when at full strength, an achievement that should be lauded.

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So as fans across the league openly question whether or not their favorite team should try to trade for Ben Simmons to “free him from Joel Embiid“, on thing is clear: Ben Simmons is just too limited to lead his own team.