“You cannot unnerve him; only he can do that to himself.”
That’s from a Jackie MacMullan feature about Ben Simmons published after the Philadelphia 76ers bumbled out of The Bubble as Mr. Simmons watched helplessly injured from the sidelines. The line refers to the commentary around his unwillingness to shoot 3s and how Philadelphia’s season ended in 2019: the bounce, the tormented scream of Kawhi Leonard publicly showing emotion, the Joel Embiid tears, and ensuing memes — all of that.
A lot has changed since April 2020. Heck, a lot has changed since April 2021. We all know the story, and we all know the Minnesota Timberwolves are now interested in acquiring Simmons while his trade value is lower than his percentage at the line.
Still, I believe that line from MacMullan. There has been so much talk from the heads that spout content about the fear in Simmons’ eyes the night he passed up on that dunk. While I think it’s a little overblown — if you watch the play a few times, you can understand the decision, if not completely justify it — it’s undeniable that he has unnerved himself. Sure, the environment around him was a factor, but he appears to have ruffled his feathers. He’s not the first player to be nervous about going to the line in a big game, and he won’t be the last. As Rolando Blackman will tell you, it takes “confidence, baby.”
Externally, that has never been a problem. In fact, for a lot of people in Australia, he has been a little too confident. It’s a weird line to toe over here. People love confidence, even cockiness, but fail to materialize that confidence in the form of wins, and you’re in trouble. I’m not sure that Ben Simmons cares what the Australian media says any more than he cares what Kendrick Perkins shouts down the lens at ESPN, but it’s fair to say he’s on the outer in both nations.
Simmons’ decision not to play in the Olympics a few weeks after the passed-up dunk was a PR nightmare in the country of his birth. If there is one thing the Australian sports media cares about, it’s patriotic devotion to the country. Representing the Aussie Battler and carrying on the larrikin spirit, donning the green and gold for the nation. There are no excuses for rest, no “I want to work on my jump shot instead” — it just won’t fly. Australia loves its grinders and its loyalists. In the decision to miss the Tokyo Olympics, Simmons painted himself to many as neither. Joe Ingles looks like he hasn’t slept in four years, so what excuse would be sufficient for a spry young man like Ben to miss out?
I don’t see it that way, and while I may have joked around with Dylan on the CnD show about this mutiny, I don’t really care if Simmons plays for the Boomers or not. I would much rather he play for the Wolves.
The scrutiny in both nations is too harsh. We don’t have time for an in-depth analysis of Australian racism, but let’s just say most of our newspapers are owned by Rupert Murdoch. If you want to get a feel for the type of media racial disaster this country is capable of, Google Adam Goodes.
Wolves fans and Aussies who don’t think Simmons has what it takes are falling for offseason hysteria. (Not to be confused with any of the highly engaging and deeply thoughtful offseason work of the Zone Coverage team, I should say). An All-NBA defensive wing is worth Jaden McDaniels, 17 picks, and all the Charlie Brown statues in Minneapolis. You know this if you seriously watched the Wolves play defense last year. Wait, they’d have to play defense for that to be true.
“His inner circle knows how much that playoff loss wounded him, but how Simmons feels in those moments is not for public consumption.”
That’s another line from the MacMullan feature. Again, if it’s true, whatever is happening in private must be burning red hot in the Simmons circle. The missed dunk is more than the scrutiny around the 3s; it’s a challenge of his quality as a basketball player. It’s a questioning of what no one has questioned before: Simmons’ ability to make the right play.
I have little doubt this is an aberration, a flash in the pan. Simmons makes the right play time and time again, and he will in the future, no matter what jersey is on his back.
I’ll end on this note. If Simmons reads this article by the grace of the random universe, know this Ben: if that were Anthony Edwards cutting the lane instead of Matisse Thybulle, you’d have an assist in the books.