The Curious Case of Benjamin Simmons
Since his college days at LSU, Ben Simmons has been basketball’s most polarizing figure. From Lebron James comparisons, being selected #1 overall, and his on and off-court relationships, to his style of play, and until recently, his unwillingness to shoot a basketball, the world can’t stop talking about Simmons.
During Friday’s scrimmage against the Memphis Grizzlies, Ben Simmons finally put something to visual that fans, media members, coaches, and teammates have been pleading for: He pulled up with confidence and drained a 3pt FG.
BEN SIMMONS FOR THREE! 💥 pic.twitter.com/T6Q57D7EmI
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 24, 2020
Simmons went 1-2 from beyond the arch on Friday against the Grizzlies. Without Joel Embiid on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, however, Simmons did not shoot any jump shots. Cause for concern? Probably not. Ben had the proper spacing needed to attack the rim and really didn’t even need to shoot the ball.
I get it. We’re talking about two scrimmages in the Disney Bubble. But look at it this way, these two games almost perfectly encompass what the general audience thinks of Ben. You have half of the Sixers’ fan base content with Ben Simmons being aggressive and a facilitator for the Sixers offense. The other half wants Simmons to shoot the ball and continue to develop his game.
Both sides are correct.
Full disclosure, I’m always a huge fan of basketball players who have pure length and athleticism. Guys who can play and defend multiple positions and do a variety of things. Give me Jaren Jackson Jr, Jonathan Issac, and even Mo Bamba. Is Mo Bamba crazy athletic? Not really, but his wingspan keeps me up at night.
Ben Simmons fits this mold perfectly. No player since Magic Johnson has that size with the incredible touch that Ben Simmons has at 6’10. Add into the mix that Simmons is likely the fastest player in the NBA clocking in at 19.7 MPH as his fastest speed (NBA Advanced Stats). His ability to weave through players and drive to the basket makes him seem like the perfect Point Forward on paper. That’s not even considering the fact that Simmons can defend any player, 1 through 5, without hesitation.
I question any person who thinks that Ben Simmons isn’t at least in the running for DPOY. At the VERY least, he should be a lock for 1st Team All-Defense.
Effortless no-look lob pass from Ben Simmons to Tobias Harris🔥 pic.twitter.com/gKaORYE9jz
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) July 24, 2020
Everything I’ve written so far is blatantly obvious about Ben Simmons. It’s hard to argue any of the points that I made because we have literally seen him do these things in game situations. It’s where almost everyone finds common ground on Simmons. Once you bring up shooting, that’s where the division begins to spread like wildfire.
Shooting the basketball has never been something Simmons has done. Everyone agrees with the fact that if Ben shot the ball more often and was okay at it he would be an incredible player. But really, the question that lingers is, does he need to shoot the ball to be great?
Looking at these last couple of seasons, there has been a stark difference in Ben’s ability to dominate in the regular season and the playoffs. Looking back at 2018 was the first experience of this. The Boston Celtics, knowing Ben’s unwillingness to shoot completely sagged off of him at the 3 point line rendering him almost unusable on offense. This forced the Sixers into playing TJ McConnell heavy minutes before losing in 5 games to Boston.
Fast forward to 2019 against the Toronto Raptors where the same thing happens again. The 76ers move Ben to the dunker’s spot for a majority of their offensive possessions and run with Jimmy Butler as the Point Guard. This seemed to work pretty well for the Sixers before, ya know, the ball bouncing off the rim and going in, which ended the Sixers season.
Brooklyn Nets guard Treveon Graham sags considerably off Ben Simmons, who poses no threat to shoot an open jumper. Playing that far off allows him to react to JJ Redick's cut and deny the passing lane. pic.twitter.com/5IsMkdTlHE
— Jake Hyman (@RealJakeHyman) April 15, 2019
And now we’re here. Welcome to the 2020 season. Early on, the hype was real as Ben shot a 3 in a preseason game and one in a regular-season matchup against the New York Knicks. For a few weeks, it was silent again until he shot another against the Cleveland Cavaliers in early December. Since that shot, Ben didn’t shoot another 3 through the rest of the season. While improvements were made it was very small baby steps towards the ultimate goal. It didn’t help that Brett Brown often made public comments saying he wanted Ben to shoot more to no avail.
— Jeff Skversky 6abc (@JeffSkversky) December 8, 2019
The thing that has a lot of fans up in the air is that Ben isn’t DeAndre Jordan from outside. When he shot the 3 he was making them more often than not. Shooting 33% from 3 (including his half-court heaves) is worthy of taking the shot if you’re left wide open. There are very few in the NBA that can drive to the basket anywhere like Ben Simmons can. His combination of speed, strength, and length is only seen in players like Giannis or LeBron James.
Ben Simmons had a 59% Field-Goal percentage in 2019, putting him 9th in the NBA. The only players ranked above him were Centers like Rudy Gobert and Steven Adams. Nobody who drives to the basket how Ben Simmons does was shooting a higher % from the field this season. So while he hasn’t shot often you can see why many are okay without it.
The main issue with Simmons not shooting is what it does for spacing.
When Ben is on the perimeter and a player sags off, it’s almost like the defense is on a power play. They completely take out Simmons’ offensive ability as they both clog the lane and leave him to shoot. This forces the Sixers to play 4 on 5.
There is a solid way to combat this. The first is what we saw against Toronto. Have Ben play Power Forward. We are once again seeing this inside the bubble and the main reason it often was never used as Brett Brown has said is their lack of a starting Point Guard outside Ben. Now with the rise of Shake Milton, we can see it happen once again.
One of Shake Milton's most important qualities for the Sixers: he's confident from 3 and can shoot off the bounce pic.twitter.com/JmHsUeRaQv
— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) July 26, 2020
The other way is having Ben shoot when defenders sag off of him. Ben doesn’t need to be a great shooter he just needs the illusion of being one. If he hits a couple, teams will no longer leave him wide open on the outside. This will then allow Ben to drive to the basket as he enjoys and get his points at the rim. Ben shooting more will get rid of those defensive schemes of forcing him to shoot as it will give him wide-open jump shots he will likely take. This will help everyone wearing a Sixers jersey on the court.
Previously, when Ben was outside without the ball, Joel Embiid would likely be posting up. This would allow his defender to double on Joel since Ben would never take the shot. Now if he is willing this will eliminate a majority of those double teams and allow Joel to be fully utilized. Super simple, right?
As players were getting ready to head to Disney. The infamous Ben Simmons practice videos hit the internet. Ben was shooting the ball. A lot. Ben shot twice from 3 against the Grizzlies, something never seen before and reportedly has the encouragement from the locker room to take those shots if he has them.
Often it has seemed he didn’t want to take them due to not wanting to waste a possession and cater to his strengths. But if his teammates are wanting him to do so I think that can help change a lot. Not only was that the only box that was checked off they also moved Shake Milton up to start to allow Ben to play like he did against Toronto. This allows him to be close to get rebounds and explode out for incredibly dangerous fast breaks which is where Simmons is best.
Ben Simmons with the poke-away vs. CP3 and is just so fast in the open floor. Enjoyed this sequence from today: pic.twitter.com/l14DRo6QdL
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) July 26, 2020
Like I said earlier, while OKC didn’t show us any shooting from Ben, he didn’t need to. Surrounded by shooters Simmons had the lane all to himself and dominated with ease. But the 76ers need Joel when playoffs come so this isn’t a likely scenario this season. Many eyes will be on their last scrimmage against the Dallas Mavericks to see if the shooting will stay.
The main debate still remains though, does Ben Simmons NEED to shoot?
I think Ben can become slightly better than what he is currently if he continues his current play style but to become his best self he does need to take those jumpers when they come to him. If he does this simple thing I think it takes Ben from a top 20 to a top 12 player in the NBA right away and his ceiling will be incredible as he ages.
Simmons is a near-perfect player outside of his shooting and adding shooting will make him near unstoppable.