Ben Simmons Thrills 76ers Fans but Deals a Blow to Australian Olympic Hopes

While it wasn’t a complete surprise that Philadelphia 76ers enigma Ben Simmons opted not to play in the Tokyo Olympics, his absence is a blow to the medal hopes for Australia. Simmons informed the national federation of his plans to skip Tokyo. Instead, he plans to use the time this offseason to work on improving his skills.

That’s not the worst call for Simmons, who is the subject of trade rumors galore. Those rumors started to swirl much more freely after his disappearing act in the playoffs. Simmons didn’t attempt a shot in the fourth quarter of the final four games of Philadelphia’s shocking loss to the Atlanta Hawks. That culminated in not taking a wide-open dunk to pass the ball. Then there’s the whole free-throw thing.

Australia has been on the cusp of a medal at a major international competition for a while now. And honestly, they’ve reached that point with very little in the way of contributions from Ben Simmons.

Ben Simmons has suited up just once for Australia’s senior men’s team

Ben Simmons' only appearance with Australia's senior national team came three years before he was drafted by the 76ers.
Tom Abercrombie of New Zealand (L) and Ben Simmons of Australia in action during the Men’s FIBA Oceania Championship in 2013. | Sandra Mu/Getty Images

Ben Simmons was barely 17 years old when he played for the national team at the 2013 FIBA Oceania Championship. In truth, it wasn’t so much a tournament as it was a best-of-three series. The Boomers and New Zealand were the only nations in the competition. Simmons played 14 minutes in the two games, scoring five points. But he got a gold medal out of the deal.

The only other time he suited up for Basketball Australia was on its Under-17 team. That was at the 2012 U17 World Cup in Kaunas, Lithuania. Simmons averaged nine points a game for the Baby Boomers. Asutralia finished with the silver medal. They lost to a U.S. team headlined by future NBA players Jahlil Okafor, Jabari Parker, and Justise Winslow.

In a press release, Boomers coach Brian Goorjian had nothing but praise for Simmons.

“I have spoken with Ben, and whilst we wanted him to be a part of our team, we understand and support his decision, and he has made it clear that this is something he wants to be a part of in the future. It is a pretty rough time for him right now, and I know it is something that he wanted to do, but the timing just hasn’t worked.

Australian national team coach Brian Goorjian

Australia, without Simmons, came agonizingly close to its first Olympic medal at Rio de Janeiro in 2012. They took an 89-88 loss to Spain in the bronze-medal game.

Trade rumors involving Simmons at a record pace

The Philadelphia 76ers were the top seed in the East this year before the Hawks bounced them in the Eastern semifinals. The passive play of Ben Simmons at the offensive end was a contributing factor to the disappointment. Simmons averaged a career-low 14.3 points per game during the regular season. In fairness, his 32.4 minutes per night were also a career-low.

But his offensive woes hit a crescendo over the final three games against Hawks. In those three games, Simmons scored 19 points — total. He attempted only 14 shots, making six. And the free-throw line? Simmons was 7-of-20. That was right on pace with his 34.2% free-throw shooting in the playoffs.

According to ESPN, teams are feeling out the 76ers about possible trade packages involving Simmons. But, at least to this point, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey is reportedly reluctant to break up the Simmons-Joel Embiid tandem.

Can the 76ers fix Ben Simmons?

There have been multiple reports that the 76ers organization coddled Ben Simmons during his five years with the franchise. His jump shot has never been one to put on a teaching reel. He won’t take 3-pointers (5-of-34 in four seasons). And in the playoffs, his free-throw form was all over the place.

Simmons is reportedly considering a change to his right hand as his dominant shooting hand. Hey, why not? There appears to be convincing evidence that his left hand isn’t getting it done.

At least one team has reportedly expressed a lot of interest in acquiring Simmons. He’s still a Swiss army knife at the defensive end. We’re talking about a a 6-foot-10 unicorn who can guard point guards and big men well. With a consistent offensive game that includes a jumper, Ben Simmons is a top-10 player in the league. That’s the multimillion-dollar question the 76ers must answer.

Statistics courtesy of RealGM and Basketball Reference.

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