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One on one: NBA’s Ben Simmons analyzed by top body language expert

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8min read

As tensions rise between Philadelphia 76ers All-Star swingman Ben Simmons and head coach Doc Rivers, we turned to body language expert Judi James to see if she could figure out what’s fueling his estrangement from the team.  

1: His ritual of disappointment

In 2 years, Ben Simmons has gone from signing a 5-year $170 million contract to being a subject of ridicule in the NBA. 

Amidst trade speculation and public fallouts with teammates and coaches, Time2Play have worked with body language expert Judi James to analyze Simmons’ behavior on and off the court. 

One of Simmons’ biggest pitfalls is his shooting, the Australian still hasn’t developed a jump shot and regularly struggles from the charity stripe. Last season, Simmons had the lowest free throw percentage in a single playoffs in NBA history. Even notoriously bad free throw shooter Shaquille O’Neal had a higher success rate in his worst playoffs in 2006.

When analyzing clips of Simmons shooting, James explains: 

“The missed shots look tragic and unexplainable. There are no outward or obvious signs of any reaction from him as he misses, which is unusual in itself. It might be natural for any sports person to show signs of anger, annoyance or that they are ‘beating themselves up’ internally after a missed shot but there are none from him and his approach doesn’t seem to change and neither, apparently,  does his emotional state, with no obvious signs of anxiety like a rapid blink rate or breathing.

It might be that he has his own technique to self-motivate or to be resilient under pressure like this but then when one of his team-mates misses we can see him throw his hands into the air in a ritual of disappointment that he might also have been expected to use on himself.”

Philadelphia 76ers player Ben Simmons shooting free throw
Philadelphia 76ers player Ben Simmons with hands on head

2: His obvious disengagement

Before the season began, Simmons’ relationship with the 76ers seemed to be irreparable. After being publicly criticized by Head Coach Doc Rivers and teammate Joel Embiid following last season’s playoffs, the 3-time All Star has made it clear he wants out of Philadelphia. The 25-year old was even thrown out of a team practice recently after refusing to take part in drills and he was also pictured practicing with his cellphone in his pocket. 

In released clips of 76ers practice, Simmons looked nonchalant and seemed distant with his teammates.

When looking at his behavior in these practices, James stated:

“Many of the ‘problem’ moments in Ben Simmons body language in these clips of his training look subtle enough to be potentially unimportant, but put into the context of a team scenario, where any fluctuations of mood or behavior will be magnified as they would in any animal grouping, it’s likely the ‘ripple effect’ would have been quite noticeable and even affecting to other members of the team.

There’s an ongoing synchronicity of crack sporting teams and anticipating and understanding each other’s non-verbal signals both on and off the court or pitch can be vital for success. When one team member begins to behave out of character it can throw all that synchronicity askew, so even behaviors like not joining in the group huddle can feel important.”

“There are moments when a very expressionless Simmons seems to be watching the play but not apparently engaging. His movements when he is playing don’t suggest the same hunger for the ball or speed as some of the other players but this might be because his role is normally less active and more about accuracy.

He looks deeply lost in thought as he watches some of the play here, holding a ball under one arm and then backing away after a few seconds.”


3: Disconnection from the group

James continued, “In the huddle he walks at the back of the group and appears to be bouncing the ball to suggest he is ignoring the moment of group unity. Looking at the happy, engaged and excited expressions on the faces of the rest of the team the suggestion is that this is a very important psychological ritual for them and the touch traits suggest it is rapport-building and bonding.

Simmons not only ignores the huddle, he also walks out quickly as though not keen to engage at all. He was also spotted with a cell phone in his pocket, which again might imply a form of disconnection from the group, as though he has other conversations or connections on his mind.”

The Sixers have taken steps to repair the relationship by announcing they would no longer be fining Simmons for his time away, and players such as Embiid and Tobias Harris have recently voiced their support towards their unsettled teammate. Team President Daryl Morey has also made it his goal to keep Simmons on the team, however, a broken down relationship with the Philly faithful may make it difficult for Simmons to receive the backing he once had. 

NBA player Ben Simmons scowling at practice
Basketball players dribbling and shooting

Ben Simmons by the numbers

Career stats through four seasons. You see any trends that could help your online sports betting?


About Judi James

Judi James is a leading expert in social behavior, body language and relationships. She regularly appears in UK newspapers analyzing the unconscious signals of a wide range of celebrities, from the British Royal Family to the Kardashians, Adele to Melania Trump. She has authored multiple books on body language, including Poker Face – Mastering Body Language to Bluff, Read Tells and Win.

Judi James

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