1. The Ben Simmons effect.
Ever since a Magic Johnson dominated the NBA from 1979-1991, teams have dreamed of a player with his physical tools to not only facilitate their offense, but score and defend as well. Simmons was the first overall selection in the 2016 draft, and despite all the hype, he has not shown signs of reaching his maximum potential.
He can pass, run the floor, and defend just about anyone, but he is a liability in half-court sets on offense, as he has shown either an inability or fear to shoot the basketball.
The final three games of the semifinals vs. Atlanta were very telling, as Simmons went three straight fourth quarters without a field goal. It is also troubling that he shot 59.7% for the season on free throws and 34% in the playoffs.
His numbers are getting worse during the regular season. He averaged only 14.3 points and 6.9 assists per game this year. This meant his 2021 numbers were down from his rookie year. He’ll be paid $33 million this season after signing a five-year $170 million extension in 2019.
Can the Raptors capitalize against a Simmons-less 76ers team?
Simmons is frustrating because he does not want to report to camp next month after demanding a trade. Even with the flaws associated with Simmons, the 76ers are not as good as they were last season without him, and even if he does play without improvement, he’s not going to put the team in a position for a long, deep playoff run.
Philadelphia can fine him if he fails to report to training camp, but he becomes an asset that’s a distraction and useless to the team. With Simmons coming off of a bad playoff run at this stage of the off-season, not many teams have cap space or the desire to add a player who responds to criticism with this mentality.
It also does not help that Philadelphia management has asked for a ridiculous package of assets in return if rumors are believed.
In a league that values shooters, especially the Raptors, consider this Aron Baynes took 103 three-point shots. Simmions, a guard of All-Star caliber, took 10 and made three all year. Ultimately, the longer the Simmons drama drags on, the harder it is for Philadelphia to win on the court.
At this stage, Toronto has a more harmonious vibe surrounding their team, plus a return to the confines of Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The Raptors could move further up the Eastern Conference Standings than most think.
Four dates vs. Philadelphia will be a solid test of how close Toronto is to returning to elite status in the East. The Raptors lead this Atlantic Division series 58-41 all-time in regular-season games, having lost two of three in 2021 to Philadelphia. However, those games were close, with all three games won by seven points or decided by two possessions.