The 76ers came into the season labeled by many as title contenders after bringing back Tobias Harris and signing Al Horford, but questions arose over their 3-point shooting ability and floor spacing — or lack thereof. Just a few months later, the 76ers find themselves fifth in the Eastern Conference, and those questions are being asked louder than ever.
Despite shooting an 11th-best 36.2 percent from behind the arc, Philadelphia attempts just 29.9 threes a game, which ranks 26th in the league. The team’s offense revolves around stars Joel Embiid, who will miss Thursday’s game against the Celtics with a dislocated finger, and Ben Simmons, both of whom primarily operate in the paint.
The 76ers have struggled to find an offensive identity all season, and it reached a boiling point before the team snapped its four-game losing streak with a 120-113 win over the Thunder on Monday night.
“Of course,” coach Brett Brown told reporters when asked if he wants his team to make more 3s. “This is where my problem is. This team needs to find more 3-point opportunities. We do. We need to hunt threes in a more definitive way than we currently are.
“I think the 3-point shot is not about, ‘Oh, we need to make more.’ We need to take more.”
Brown’s call to action perhaps affects nobody more than Simmons. Though he’s one of the most talented play-makers in the league, his inability, and refusal, to thrive from behind the arc has plagued his young career.
In early December, Simmons took and made his second three of the season, and his career, in a 141-94 win over the Cavaliers. After the game, Brown claimed that he wanted Simmons to attempt at least one 3-pointer per game.
The 76ers have played 15 games since Brown’s challenge. Simmons has failed to attempt a single shot from behind the arc in that span.
“Evidently I have failed, and it’s something that we’re all mindful of, and this is one of these things that is never going to go away,” Brown said before Monday’s game. “The attention this has received is remarkable. But I guess I helped fuel it, and I own it, and I’ve got to help him find this, and more importantly, he has to find himself.”
Brown is not alone in his public challenges directed at Simmons. Embiid recognized the team’s need to restructure its offense in the midst of a four-game losing streak last week.
“We just got to look at ourselves and see what we can do individually, we’ve got to help each other even if it means being outside of your comfort zone for the greater [good] to help the team win,” Embiid told reporters last Thursday.
“Meaning that, if you’ve got to space and shoot it, you’ve got to do it. We need everybody to buy into that and we’ll be fine, we’re going to be fine. We’re still finding our groove, we haven’t been totally healthy, the whole starting lineup. Like I said, we’ll be fine.”
Simmons’ lack of a 3-point game has allowed opposing defenders to double team Embiid in the paint, giving the 76ers little ability to space the floor. One of the league’s best defensive and most talented teams, an inability to shoot from behind the arc is threatening to derail Philadelphia’s title hopes.
“For us to win, we are going to need him [Simmons] to shoot,” Embiid said in November.