Ben Simmons has been widely blamed for the No. 1 seed Philadelphia 76ers losing in the second round to the underdog and injury-riddled Atlanta Hawks. While Simmons was hardly the only issue for the 76ers, he scored only five points in Game 7 of that series and was held to single digits in each of the final three games. More distressingly, he shot only 33.3 percent from the foul line, including a miserable 4-of-14 mark in a Game 5 loss that saw the 76ers blow a 26-point lead.
Simmons has many virtues as a player. He is an excellent defender. His passing is essential to Philadelphia's offense, and he is one of the very best transition players in basketball. But that refusal to try to score late in playoff games was ultimately his undoing. Scottie Pippen would know. He shares a number of stylistic similarities with Simmons, but was a far better scorer late in games. In an interview with GQ's Tyler R. Tynes, Pippen made it clear that because of those scoring issues, he didn't even think Simmons should have been in the game in fourth quarters against the Hawks.
"I watched a lot of games that Doc [Rivers] shouldn't have had him in, in the fourth quarter," Pippen said. "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."
Pippen went on to compare Simmons to another All-Star who struggles to shoot: Giannis Antetokounmpo, and identified the one key difference between the two of them.
"He's still a good basketball player," Pippen began. "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 f------ 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."
Antetokounmpo is shooting 55.4 percent from the foul line this postseason. He has been called for two 10-second violations during his pre-shot routine, one against the Miami Heat and another against the Brooklyn Nets. Nets fans counted to 10 while he was at the line to try to psych him out, and he has air-balled several free throws this postseason.
Yet at no point has Antetokounmpo displayed any fear of going to the basket. He is averaging over 11 shots in the restricted area per game this postseason, by far the most of any player. He leads all Bucks with an average of 4.9 shot attempts per fourth quarter in the postseason. By comparison, Simmons attempted only three shots across all seven fourth quarters against Atlanta. He often went to extreme lengths just to avoid shooting. Late in a close Game 7, he passed up a wide-open dunk to make an ill-advised pass to Matisse Thybulle, which led to only one point at the foul line. Joel Embiid would later call the moment the game's turning point.
Simmons has always been a more rigid player than Antetokounmpo. Milwaukee's star has always struggled from behind the arc as well, but has committed to attempting multiple 3-pointers per game in an effort to improve. He's taken over 1,300 3s in his career. Simmons has tried only 34 despite former coach Brett Brown telling Simmons he wanted at least one attempt per game.
Simmons simply avoids situations in which he struggles. Antetokounmpo embraces them and actively tries to improve through game reps. That might explain why Antetokounmpo's team is still alive this postseason and Simmons' is not.