NBA playoffs: Is Doc Rivers enabling Ben Simmons' lack of shooting?

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Is Rivers enabling Simmons' lack of shooting? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Ben Simmons needs to be more aggressive offensively. It has been the chorus of Sixers fans for nearly a half-decade.

The man even said it himself after Game 4: “I definitely should’ve been more aggressive and attacked more.”

While Joel Embiid was in a historic offensive shooting night – 0 for 12 after halftime – Simmons, a three-time All-Star, should’ve seen Embiid’s struggles and stepped up. Simmons took one shot in the second half in 17:16 on the floor. Clearly not enough, as the Sixers blew an 18-point lead.

In these situations, a good head coach can be invaluable to motivate players to command the spotlight, to get more out of a player in the moment.

Tuesday, Doc Rivers was asked about Simmons' admitted lack of shooting in the second half of Game 4, expecting Rivers to agree and reply with a “back to the drawing board” type of response. 

He took the opposite point of view.

“I couldn’t disagree with that more,” Rivers said. “I actually think more aggressive if he’s talking about facilitating, yeah. Getting the ball up the floor with better pace. But not as far as shooting, or anything like that. Just getting into our stuff more aggressively, with better pace.

“And that may end up with him shooting the ball because of that. We were just walking the ball up the floor, taking our time, so maybe that’s what he means. And he’s right about that, for sure. But that’s not how we play basketball.”

Simmons has a height advantage on virtually any guard in the NBA – certainly any guard on the Hawks roster. He has the ability to get to the basket almost at will. This is one of the things that makes Simmons an upper-echelon player. Indirectly telling him that he doesn’t have to do this, at least occasionally, is failing him and the team.

In fairness, Rivers could be telling Simmons something completely different behind closed doors. Take the second half of Game 3 as an example. 

In the first half, Simmons was 2 for 5 from the floor. In the second half, he was prime Ben, going 5 for 6 and getting to the line eight more times. Perhaps Rivers told Simmons to turn things on, to engage offensively, to exploit those matchup problems he invariably creates. Maybe Rivers flipped a table in the locker room, who knows?

But what Rivers is telling the media – and the fans, by proxy – is that Simmons doesn’t need to shoot. He is enabling Simmons. If Rivers wants to lead this team to an NBA title – and, let’s face it, that’s what he was brought here to do – he needs to get the most out of every player on the roster, especially its stars.

Every possession in the playoffs is valuable. If the Sixers had scored on two more possessions than they did Monday night, they would be up 3-1 in the series.

Rivers has a dominant chess piece offensively in Simmons and seemingly is content to make him a pawn.

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