Freshman tracker: Ben Simmons doesn't take over late in games

The shots that determine close games are normally reserved for the best player. But what happens if he doesn't want to take them?

That's been the case with LSU forward Ben Simmons this season. There's a growing narrative that he's too reluctant to take the shot in late-game situations.

It happened again in the Tigers' 77-75 loss to Oklahoma on Saturday. Simmons scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. In fact, he made three of LSU's first five field goals to start the second half.

Then he virtually disappeared. Simmons had only one attempt in the final 10 minutes. He didn't have an assist in that span, either.

In the final minute, with LSU trailing by three, Simmons didn't take one decisive shot. Jalyn Patterson attempted a 3 and Tim Quarterman missed a jumper before Antonio Blakeney's 3-pointer with 24 seconds remaining tied the game. When the Sooners scored with four seconds left, the ball again went to Quarterman for the final shot with 1 second left.

ESPN.com reached out to several coaches who have played against LSU this season and scouts who have observed him for their thoughts on how Simmons handles late-game situations offensively.

One coach, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said his team practically made Simmons' hesitation to take the shot part of their game plan. Their defensive focus was to make sure Quarterman and Keith Hornsby didn't hurt them because they didn't think Simmons would be aggressive enough to do so.

"It's not like he has that Kobe (Bryant), alpha male, rip-your-throat-out mentality, he's a pretty happy go-lucky kid that's horsing around before a game having fun," he said. "I just think he's more comfortable as a make-the-right-play guy."

One scout observed that Simmons oftentimes doesn't look like he trusts his jump shot enough to launch it at critical points. That could explain his tendency to look for others to take the shots that matter.

"It's just hard to just go get a bucket in half court when you don't want to shoot it, especially in college, the defense can just load up," he said.

Simmons has only been held below double-digit scoring once this season. He had four points against North Carolina State on 1-of-6 shooting. But it also goes to a pattern. Out of seven games he's had single-digit attempts, five of those were losses.

That's given way to a theory that Simmons has become less of a scorer against the Tigers' best competition and tries to be more of a facilitator. Tuesday night against Auburn he came out firing, scoring 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting in LSU's 80-68 road win. Simmons looked like a player who knew the Tigers will only go as far as he leads them.

But this season in LSU's games against ranked teams (Kentucky, Texas A&M and Oklahoma), he has a total of 21 shot attempts. And although he averages 8.3 free throws per game, he's only gotten to the line a combined 15 times in those three games.

"It's a fair comparison to link Simmons with how LeBron (James) played early on (in his career)," one coach said. "They're not necessarily thinking selfishly, they just want to get the ball in the right spots and whatever happens, happens."

At least one coach thinks Simmons' decision-making in late-games is being dissected too much.

"It's a little bit unfair," he said. "If you're a point guard who's not a shooter, but you're great, at the end of the game does that mean you've got to shoot the 3 or you try to set up your good shooters?"

Simmons' answer to that may not satisfy everyone, but it may be his truth for now.