By Teddy Brenner
I normally do not join the club of writers who complain about a player’s performance not measuring up to his salary.
That’s because the money in sports is so outsized that it doesn’t lend itself to rational thought.
I mean Chris Paul has announced that he is turning down a $44 million extension from the Suns because he wants a three-year guarantee, and he’ll test free agency.
As good as CP3 is, he is also 36 years old!
But it’s hard to have watched last night’s Sixers collapse without trying to make sense of the relative value of Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris.
The Sixers were up by 26 points on the Hawks near the end of the third quarter — a total beatdown.
The Sixers were on their way to a 3-2 series lead and the doorstep of their first conference final in the era of The Process.
Atlanta won the game 109-106.
That’s because other than Seth Curry and Joel Embiid, not one single Sixers player made a single shot in the second half.
Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, Furkan Korkmaz, Matisse Thybulle, Shake Milton, George Hill, Dwight Howard and Tyrese Maxey combined to shoot 0 for 11 in the second half.
Simmons and Harris are under contract for a combined $360 million.
Harris was 0-for-4 in the second half and 2-for-11 in the game for a total of four points. Elton Brand extending Harris on a five-year, $180 million deal is when Philly’s Process officially went from promising to desperate.
Brand didn’t have much of a choice. He’d already traded so much to get Harris in the first place, without any cap space to replace him, that he pretty much had to double down. This is much of what has become of the Process. The Jimmy Butler trade cashed in a lot of the equity they;d built up, and then they lost Butler. The Harris trade shaved a lot more meat. Brett Brown was fired. The Markelle Fultz pick went bust. Just about every good shooter the team had was moved (J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Daric, Marco Belinelli, Ersan Illyasova, Landry Shamet). Simmons is half of what’s remaining from years of suffering in pursuit of an opportunity like the one in front of the Sixers, and Harris stands in place of a lot of parts preceding him.
Harris had a good year. But he’t not a star. He’s out of his depth as a primary perimeter creator of shots.
By what about Simmons?
All his apologists love to tell you about all the things Simmons does for the Sixers that we causal basketball consumers can’t possibly fathom.
They love to tell you how it doesn’t matter if Simmons scores because he creates opportunities for other people to score.
How did that turn out last night and also in game 4’s loss?
The dirty little secret these apologists either don’t understand or don’t want to cop to is that when you aren’t a threat to shoot or score yourself, your ability to create for others is severely limited.
No defender is coming toward Simmons unless it’s to intentionally foul him. He can’t shoot. He won’t shoot.
Sure, he can get some coast-to-coast buckets (he used to, at least) and every once in a while he’ll get your optimism stirring with a post move or a cut. But when the free-wheeling regular-season music stops and the actual earn-your-buckets grind of the postseason begins, he is, for the most part, just out there.
Last night Simmons took one shot in the second half. One. This is after he said, following his similarly scared second-half showing in Philly’s Game 4 meltdown (Over the last two fourth quarters, Simmons hasn’t taken one shot in almost 17 minutes of game time), that he “definitely should have been more aggressive and attacked more.”
That’s not just about scoring. Simmons creates a ton of 3-point buckets for his teammates in the regular season by forcing his way into the paint and kicking and pushing in transition. That guy disappears way too often, and too easily. Perhaps the reason he doesn’t want to attack is he’s worried about getting fouled and having to go to the line. The guy is shooting 33 percent from the stripe in the playoffs (22-for-67).
Do the math, and that’s 45 shanks for Simmons so far. That’s more than the Hawks (39), Suns (29) and Nets (22) have missed as a team. On Wednesday, Simmons went 4-for-14 from the line, making him the first player this season — regular or post — to miss 10 free throws in a game. There was a time when Simmons was losing postseason fourth-quarter minutes because the great T.J. McConnell was a bigger threat to do, well, anything on the offensive end. Now he’s getting benched in the fourth quarter so the other team doesn’t intentionally foul him. That’s called a liability. Not a franchise player.
Simmons surely wasn’t the only reason the Sixers blew this game on Wednesday. Again, Harris was awful. Doc Rivers tried his best to outdo Mike Budenholzer for the worst coaching performance of the season; seriously, what were some of those lineups he was throwing out there? If you know the Hawks are going to foul Simmons intentionally, thus negating any need for offensive spacing and shooting, why is Korkmaz in the game? Put some defense out there one time.