Friday, October 7 2022
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Among the many topics discussed in Joel Embiid’s recent sit-down with JJ Redick on “The Old Man and the Three” podcast: Ben Simmons, their former teammate. 

More specifically, Embiid and Redick discussed Simmons’ relationship with Philadelphia 76ers fans. They agreed that, over Simmons’ four active seasons in Philadelphia, fans grew frustrated with Simmons’ refusal to shoot jump shots. 

Some context: Embiid had praised the Sixers’ fan base for being “so in tune with everything that’s going on with the team” and said that, when he (i.e. Embiid himself) had been booed at home, he “took it as a positive” and a sign that he needed to play better. Redick followed up by asking if fans turned on Simmons in part because they didn’t feel Simmons embraced the responsibility of being a star in Philadelphia. 

“I think it was more so they didn’t feel like they were heard,” Embiid said. “You know how much they wanted him to shoot the ball, how much they wanted him to be better in their own ways. He’s a great basketball player, he does so much stuff on the basketball court that people should pay attention (to), but they also felt like, from Year 1 to whatever year that was for him, they didn’t see any improvement. I think that’s the way I kind of understand (it). Because even when you look back at all the years, like, what was the biggest thing they wanted him to do? Shoot 3s or free throws or whatever that was — shooting in general.

“I think they just felt like it had been so long and there was no changes. I think that’s what kind of started the whole thing about everybody being mad and all that stuff. But I felt like — I think he embraced them. I don’t know if they felt like it was genuine or whatever. But I feel like he embraced them.”

In Redick’s estimation, Simmons did improve significantly, but not in the way that fans had hoped. 

“If we were to sort of summarize the frustration of the Philly fan base, it is that they did not see the growth,” Redick said. “And certainly in the two years that I played with him, I saw growth. Watching him become one of the best defensive players. And you saw it his first year. Our first year here, I saw it. You saw glimpses of it. 

“There was a possession I remember: He was on DeMar (DeRozan). He shut him down, couldn’t get a shot off, he ended up switching onto Serge (Ibaka) in the post, Serge couldn’t move him, we got a shot clock violation and it was like, ‘whoa, that’s who Ben could be?’ And you see that growth. But it was that non-growth in shooting. And that was the frustration. I think you nailed it. Ben, to me — you know I love Ben. I thought he was a great teammate. I thought he was engaged. But I think that’s what it was.”

On the podcast, Embiid did not weigh in on whether or not the fans’ frustration was justified. When they were teammates, though, Embiid said on several occasions that it would help the team if Simmons were willing to shoot 3-pointers. Most recently, at media day in September, when a reporter asked Embiid what he’d like to see from Simmons on the court if he were to return to the Sixers, Embiid said, “I mean, I’m sure we have all seen videos,” referring to clips of Simmons making jumpers in offseason workouts. “So, that would help.” (Embiid went on to praise Simmons’ defense and ability to create 3s for teammates, adding that Simmons could be “a monster” on the offensive boards if he focused more on grabbing them.)

Few Philadelphia fans would dispute that they wanted Simmons to attempt jumpers and improve his free throw percentage. Some might say that shooting is only one of the issues they had with him, citing his insistence that he be called a point guard, passive play late in second-round playoff games, a perceived arrogance and any number of other gripes, not the least of which is the simple fact that he asked for a trade and refused to play for the Sixers while they tried to find an acceptable one. 

In January 2020, Simmons told Bleacher Report’s Yaron Weitzman that, when it comes to his shooting, his “main focus” is “just getting the best shot we can every time.” On the subject of corner 3s specifically, Simmons explained that, rather than spacing to the corner when Embiid has the ball in the post, he would rather be in the dunker spot, so he can be in position for a potential offensive rebound and his man can’t help off of him. He added that it’s a “tough pass” for Embiid to make from the block to the weak-side corner.

“Our offense isn’t designed for that,” Simmons said. “There’s things I need to work on, which I’m going to do, but I think the way I play, my style, I’m able to create things. I’m a creative player, I make things happen, which 90 percent of the league can’t do. There’s only a select few players who can make plays and get guys good shots.”



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