Ben Simmons' aggression on the offensive end fluctuates. At times, he looks like a guard dog, ready to attack anything, or anyone, who gets in his way. Other times, he looks like a timid terrier, eager to avoid conflict or confrontation. Unfortunately for Philadelphia, he looked like the latter during Game 4 against the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night, especially in the second half.
Simmons finished the game with 11 points on 10 shots in a 103-100 loss, but he took just one shot in the second half which came in the third quarter. It didn't help that Sixers star center Joel Embiid was struggling severely on offense, and needed someone else to help him pick up the scoring slack, especially in the fourth quarter.
Instead of upping his aggression, Simmons was mostly invisible on the offensive end in the second half, content to stand in the dunker spot during many of Philadelphia's key possessions down the stretch. Like this one:
And this one:
When he did touch the ball, he appeared eager to get it out of his hands:
Perhaps his timid play on the offensive end is the result of his struggles from the free-throw line. Simmons has gone just 8 of 25 from the charity stripe in the series against the Hawks, and he's looked extremely uncomfortable there. It's possible that the fear of getting fouled and being forced to the line has caused him to be conservative in his offensive approach, which obviously isn't ideal for Philadelphia. After shooting 61 percent from the line during the regular season, Simmons is shooting just 34 percent from there during the postseason. Pointing out Simmons' struggles on the offensive end does not take away from what he does defensively, but obviously you need to have success on both sides to be a complete player.
Simmons' lack of output in the second half of Game 4 was disappointing for several reasons, but it was especially disheartening after the solid second half he had in Game 3. Over the final 24 minutes of that game, Simmons scored 14 points on six shots to help propel the Sixers to victory. Simmons' second-half surge in Game 3 was spurred on by pep talks from Doc Rivers and Joel Embiid.
"We just thought he passed up too many opportunities. In the fast break, in the post. So we told him that we were going to come out and feature him in the post," Rivers said after Game 3. "And he was great for us. It's exactly what we need. With his pace and power, it was great."
"I just told him, 'You need to be aggressive and you need to attack, because there's a lot of space. Especially with the way they're guarding me,'" Embiid added. "So I told him to just be aggressive and just go out there and just dominate."
Apparently Rivers and Embiid didn't deliver similar messages at halftime of Game 4. If they did, it certainly didn't resonate the same way with Simmons, who acknowledged after the game that he should have been on the attack more than he was.
"I definitely should have been more aggressive and attacked more," Simmons said. "I think the spacing was a little off this game. We didn't get to our spacing. We weren't as aggressive that second half."
It's a solid sign that Simmons is able to admit that he should have looked to attack more, and moving forward in the series hopefully he will. However, it would have been better if Simmons was able to realize that the Sixers needed him to be aggressive in the moment, as opposed to after the game. With Embiid clearly bothered by his lingering knee injury and unable to produce at his usual high clip, you'd hope that the other All-Star on the roster would sense that and try to help out.
In a game that the Sixers lost by three, 103-100, a couple of determined drives from Simmons could have flipped things in Philadelphia's favor. After all, there is a correlation between Simmons being relatively aggressive on the offensive end and the Sixers winning playoff games. Since he entered the league in 2016, the Sixers are 12-4 in playoff games in which Simmons attempts at least 11 field goals. Perhaps Simmons will want to keep that stat in mind moving forward for the rest of Philadelphia's current playoff push.