New York, October 19: Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers remains unsure if Ben Simmons will feature in the team's NBA season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday (October 20).
Simmons demanded a trade amid criticism following last season's playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks and was absent from Philadelphia for the first two weeks of preseason work before showing up on October 11 to begin fulfilling COVID-19 protocols that would allow him to re-join the championship-chasing franchise.
As the 76ers – who claimed the Eastern Conference top seed in 2020-21 – gear up for the new season, Rivers was again asked about Simmons' availability.
"I have no idea," Rivers told reporters after Simmons participated in practice on Monday. "Honestly, I haven't even thought about it much.
"When it comes, I'll make the decision. But I'm just going to wait and see and watch. The spirit has been so good, and so we’re just going to keep going."
"Just learning the new stuff, conditioning, timing, rhythm," Rivers said.
"We've been together for three weeks, so we've established a good rhythm. So the more he's been in, the more he does, especially when we're working on our offensive stuff earlier, because we've built from last year but we tweaked a lot of stuff. But it's easy to pick up, especially for him."
Simmons – an elite defender – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.
Former number one draft pick Simmons had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.
Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.
Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.
On chemistry, Rivers added: "It'll grow. It'll come back. I'm not that concerned, right now, with it. They are interchanging, it's coming, and it just takes time.
"Chemistry is huge, and I think overall our chemistry is phenomenal right now and we want to keep it going."