After Ben Simmons hit his second career three back on Dec. 7 against Cleveland, he set a new bar in the eyes of his head coach.
When the game was over, Brett Brown was as expressive as he’d ever been regarding Simmons’ shot, saying he wanted his young point guard to take “a three-point shot a game, minimum.”
In the 15 games since, Simmons has not taken a single legitimate three. Before Monday’s win over the Thunder, Brown took the blame for Simmons not fulfilling that wish.
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. The attention that this has received is remarkable, but I guess I helped fuel it. I own it. I gotta help him find this and most importantly, he has to help himself.
As his last two games have proven, there has to be an acknowledgment that this is a bit of a conundrum for Simmons.
Against the Rockets and Thunder, Simmons combined for 46 points (19 of 32), 28 rebounds, 19 assists, four steals and four blocks. It was arguably his best two-game stretch of the season — and he didn’t take a single shot outside of the paint.
Simmons is the team’s point guard. His ability in the open court is second to none. With his size and skills, he’s right up there in terms of being able to go up, get a rebound and push it the other way. In the half court, that changes.
But Brown and Simmons have adapted. In the last two contests, Brown has used Simmons more as a screener and roller with Josh Richardson. It’s helped make the offense look a little less stagnant and allowed Simmons to play more to his strengths.
The Sixers have been looking for more “go-to” actions. The Simmons-Richardson combo may be one.
“He's an amazing talent,” Simmons said of Richardson. “It's only been a few games where we've actually tried it out and it's been effective. So I think we'll look at it a little bit more.”
While this is an effective way to help Simmons produce in the half court, it’s not a cure-all.
There are so many things Simmons does well. He’s fourth in the NBA in assists, first in steals and looks well on his way to earning All-Defensive Team honors.
But he’s still not able (willing?) to do one of the most basic things a basketball player can do. Of the 389 shots Simmons has taken, just 26 have been outside of 10 feet. The other side of that is he’s just 5 of 26 (19.2) on those shots. Then again, Simmons has taken two legitimate three-point attempts this season and he’s swished both — and looked natural doing it.
It’s a situation where Simmons knows his shooting is a weakness. He’s been unable to find the balance of playing his game while also implementing more outside shots.
“He wants to make the highest-percentage play every time,” GM Elton Brand said on Christmas day. “But he will unlock another level of our team once he starts doing that more. But he knows that, Coach knows that, and we’re working towards that. He wants to feel that he’s making the best play. So when he feels that that’s the best play, he’s going to do it more and more.”
For Brown, it simply seemed like he was trying to take the pressure and attention off Simmons by offering his “failed” comments. It worked to an extent, but as he also mentioned, this isn’t going away.
Brown is going to keep pushing Simmons to shoot, but what happens when Simmons’ number is called and he doesn’t let it rip?
“First of all, that hasn't happened, and when it does happen, we can come back, and I can give you an answer,” Brown said. “And I hear sort of the essence of your question. And ultimately, that's going to be something that he and I figure out.”
Has Brown really “failed” Simmons? The 23-year-old is playing at a high level, but still struggles to add a crucial element to his game.
It’s a conundrum that only Simmons can figure out.
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