Frustrated after Friday's 123-121 home loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Sixers point guard Ben Simmons called his team "Too soft", urging a more physical approach to the game. The Sixers were without Joel Embiid for that game and surrendered 62 points in the paint.
Yesterday against the New York Knicks with Embiid in the lineup Simmons had a monster game of 20 points, 22 rebounds and 9 assists as the Sixers held on for a 108-105 victory after blowing a 24-point lead.
Looking at the overall makeup of Sixers, physicality isn't as high on the list of issues with the Sixers as Simmons may have us believe.
Simmons comments about the Sixers collectively being "too soft" reverberated throughout the NBA like one of his signature dunks. Shooting guard Jimmy Butler took exception to the comments and hoped the team was still unified after such an indictment.
"I don't like the word 'soft,'". "I just don't think that we did what we were supposed to do. I'm not gonna say that anybody's soft. I just think that we got beat in every aspect of the game. They came out from the jump and did what they wanted to do, and they did that for 48 straight minutes."
Simmons went on to say that the team doesn't take defending to heart.
"I just don't think we're physical enough. I think defensively, we're not taking it personal enough when guys score on us. It should be a pride thing when somebody scores; you should be frustrated every time."
Yesterday with Joel Embiid back in the lineup against the New York Knicks, Simmons put together a monster stat line of 20 points 22 boards and 9 assists. Despite his huge day, the Sixers staggered to a 108-105 victory after blowing a 24-point lead.
While defense is a problem with the Sixers, floor spacing, in-game coaching adjustments and Simmons reluctance to shoot the ball have been long-standing problems. Simmons in the last handful of games has just started to take shots he would normally pass up. We know Simmons' shot is a work in progress, but he has to take the 10-15 footer because defenders are going to give him that. Simmons has to take those opportunities when they're presented to him. The Sixers can't win playing five on four basketball.
Jimmy Butler has openly questioned head coach Brett Brown about his offensive role on the team. Butler suggested running a traditional pick and roll and isolation sets as opposed to winging it in Brown's free-wheeling offense.
The Sixers don't have the scoring punch in the bench rotation they had last season. Justin Anderson, Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova among others were able to get baskets and defend. More importantly, they were interchangeable parts able to mix in to the stating unit. Furkan Korkmaz, T.J. McCollum, Mike Muscala, and Landry Shamet have had their moments this season, but have done so in spurts. The addition of a grinder to this unit could allow the others to settle into their roles.
The only thing I can think of worse than being called soft is a quitter. I don't believe the Sixers are a soft team. I believe some nights they think they can walk on the floor and the game is handed to them. Some nights they look like a young team struggling to find their way despite having their undeniable talent. The Boston Celtics are dealing with the same issues after being picked by many to be in The NBA Finals.
Throughout the history of the NBA, teams are identified and judged through the personality and play of their point guard. Walt Frazier, Magic Johnson, Isaiah Thomas and Allen Iverson are just some examples. Simmons is as aggressive as they come, but at times he is passive and gives off the impression that the game comes too easy to him.
It's a tag the Sixers are going to wear as long as Ben Simmons remains here