Charles Barkley isn’t one to shy away from speaking his mind. He’s also very familiar with what Philadelphia 76ers fans demand from their players, spending his first eight seasons in the City of Brotherly Love.
While Sir Charles has forever endeared himself to the Sixers’ faithful, Ben Simmons is doing the opposite. The talented but disgruntled point guard has reportedly demanded a trade out of Philadelphia after an embarrassing postseason performance and subsequent second-round exit.
Between the playoff collapse and trade request, Philly fans are understandably turning on Simmons. Barkley believes he knows why, and also thinks the sixth-year guard needs to be more like a certain two-time MVP.
Charles Barkley thinks Ben Simmons is afraid
On The Mike Missanelli Show, Barkley was in the studio to discuss Simmons. Sir Charles pointed out the criticisms surrounding Ben are nothing new.
“We’ve been having the same conversation for four years,” Barkley said. “Now all of a sudden it came to a head, and y’all look like idiots, like ‘This dude ain’t going to shoot.’ He’s going to hide in the corner playing five-on-four, and then all of a sudden everybody now is like, ‘Well what are we going to do?’ If you’ve been doing the same thing for four years and it’s not working, some would think you’d have to say, ‘Okay, let’s do this.'”
While Simmons has always faced criticism for not shooting, it did amplify more than ever last postseason. The 25-year-old took just four shots in Games 5 and 7 against the Atlanta Hawks, both losses. The worst of it was in the fourth quarter, when the 6-foot-11 All-Star attempted three shots total in fourth quarters against Atlanta, including zero attempts in the final four games.
Ultimately, Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot boils down to fear, according to Barkley.
“I think what annoys Philadelphia fans the most, and I’ve been here for 36 years … I think they’re mad ’cause he’s afraid. I don’t know this, but I’m just telling you from being in Philly for 36 years, I think Philly’s mad ’cause this dude is scared.”Charles Barkley
It’s not the first time Barkley has said Simmons was fearful. Following Philadelphia’s Game 7 loss at home, Sir Charles blasted the guard on NBA on TNT, saying, “You can’t have a guy on the court who’s afraid to shoot the basketball. He’s giving the ball up to Joel Embiid at half court because he’s terrified. This dude is scared to death. It’s unbelievable. You can just listen to the crowd.”
Barkley believes Simmons needs to be more like Giannis Antetokounmpo
To further explain his point, Barkley compared Simmons, an athletic ball-handler with a questionable shot, to Giannis Antetokounmpo, a two-time NBA MVP and the newest NBA Finals MVP.
Before Giannis won a ring with the Milwaukee Bucks last July, he faced several of the same criticisms Simmons has. The two of them are athletic and can drive to the hoop, but neither are great shooters. Nor are they players you’d want at the free-throw line in a close game.
But the Greek Freak plays with never-ending drive and courage, something Barkley doesn’t see in Simmons.
“When you watch the Milwaukee Bucks play, and that boy ain’t no better of a free throw shooter than Ben Simmons, but he ain’t scared,” said Barkley. “He’s going, man, and you have to admire that. He doesn’t care if he misses 100 of ’em. He ain’t going to run from the ball. That dude plays so hard, you have to admire him.”
Barkley is right about Antetokounmpo, particularly with free throws. The Greek Freak is only a career-68.5 percent shooter from the line and had plenty of bad playoff games, including a 6-for-13 showing in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals and a 4-for-11 game in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. But the fear never came for Giannis, who in a title-clinching Game 6, made 17 of 19 free throws as part of his legendary 50-point performance.
Will Simmons ever change?
As doubtful as it seems sometimes, Simmons is aware he doesn’t shoot as much as people want him to. In a 2020 interview with Yaron Weitzman of Fox Sports, Ben said exactly why he doesn’t shoot often.
“Our offense isn’t designed for that,” Simmons said. “There are things I need to work on, which I’m going to do, but I think the way I play, my style, I’m able to create things. I’m a creative player, I make things happen, which 90 percent of the league can’t do. There are only a select few players who can make plays and get guys good shots.”
“I don’t sit here and say, like, ‘I gotta do this every time.’ My game’s not based off that. Like, I do so many things on the court where I’m efficient and effective, affecting the game in different ways, so there are things I need to work on, but, I mean, if you really want, you can look at other players and be like, ‘Well, this guy needs to work on his dribbling because he can’t dribble. He has this many turnovers if he’s forced to dribble.’”
His quotes sound like they’re coming from a player who knows what has gotten him to an All-Star level. But making changes and adapting is just a part of growing as a basketball player.
LeBron James began to take more threes when the NBA became a shooters league. Kobe Bryant transitioned from an athletic, above-the-rim talent to a mid-range assassin. Even some role players, like Giannis’ teammate Brook Lopez, changed their games entirely in an effort to adapt, both for themselves and their teams.
Barkley might be right about Simmons being held back by fear. But stubbornness also holds the talented guard back. And leaving Philadelphia, his ultimate wish, isn’t going to keep the criticisms surrounding him away.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.