CAMDEN, N.J. — A little less than a year ago, Ben Simmons had a simple response to the question of whether he was planning to attempt three-point shots.
“No. I’m not going to come out and shoot threes,” he said.
There were other parts of his offensive game he hoped to improve on, Simmons said, but the three-point shot wasn’t in the picture for the 2018-19 season.
When asked Monday at the Sixers' media day his thoughts on Brett Brown encouraging him to take threes, Simmons' answer was, in typical fashion, concise. However, his attitude had changed.
“It’s just a part of the game,” Simmons said. “If it’s open, I’ll take it.”
Outside shooting is indeed just a part of basketball, but it’s one that those who follow the Sixers have been fixated on with Simmons. The 23-year-old All-Star does so many other things well, from sparking the offense with his breakneck speed and creative passing in transition to guarding just about every position on the floor.
He’s yet to make a three-point shot in the NBA, though, and his track record both with any type of jump shot and from the foul line is poor. He shot 23.8 percent from 10 feet and out last season, while his free throw percentage improved slightly, from 56 to 60 percent.
The criticism about Simmons’ biggest weakness has been widespread, and he acknowledged Monday that he’s heard it and let it affect him in the past. He said something changed this summer.
I think I was just too worried about what people are saying and what was going on around me, outside noises. And I was able to really block them out this summer and not really focus on what people were saying. At the end of the day, I don’t really care anymore unless it’s coming from someone in my circle or somebody that’s trying to help me get better.
Simmons worked on his game in Los Angeles this summer with trainer Chris Johnson, who released several videos full of highlight-reel dunks and swished jumpers.
“We’ve been working on everything from ball handling to touch around the rim, floaters, jumpers, threes, whatever it is,” Simmons said. “Getting a consistent rhythm. I feel comfortable.”
Tobias Harris trained some with Simmons in L.A. and was impressed with what he saw.
“He’s a gym rat," Harris said. "He was in the gym all summer up until now. ... I’ve seen a lot of growth in him, not only on the basketball floor but off the floor, too — his maturity and where his mindset is on this upcoming year."
Simmons agreed with Harris’ assessment. He’s aware of the high expectations around the Sixers and is determined to meet them. He mostly deflected questions about individual accolades — besides stating his ambition to win Defensive Player of the Year — and said his focus is on winning a championship.
“It’s actually funny, I was talking to my brother about that the other day,” he said. “I was talking to him; ‘I just think I’m locked in.’ I don’t know what’s changed, a switch or whatever it was, but I feel locked in. I feel ready. This summer’s been huge for me, just working.”
So, how will that shift in mentality manifest itself in games this season? Will things really be as straightforward as Simmons taking jumpers when he’s open, or will he ultimately prefer to take the interior shots he already knows he can convert at a decent rate in NBA games?
While Brown has said he wants Simmons to be confident shooting jumpers, there won’t be an unconditional green light — he won’t “hunt threes" for his point guard. What does Simmons and the Sixers not actively seeking out long range shots but still shooting them when open (and with confidence) actually look like? What kind of impact would it have on the Sixers' offense?
A reporter wondered whether all the questions about Simmons’ jumper ever get tiring.
“The jump shot stuff, I don’t really care,” he said.
He might be the only one.
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