Ben Simmons is a two-time All-Star, has helped lead his team to back-to-back 50-win seasons and is a serious candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. All this, and the Australia native hasn’t even reached his 24th birthday.
Still, the burning question on everyone’s mind is, “Why won’t Ben Simmons shoot?”
The answers somewhat vary, according to an article by ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan. MacMullan spoke to those inside Simmons’ tight inner circle and a few others.
The overriding theme seemed to be that Simmons can shoot, but just simply isn’t comfortable doing so. It’s come to a point where Simmons agreed to work with a sports psychologist, according to MacMullan.
The simplest explanation for Simmons not shooting more is that he doesn’t view it as the best play for his team.
"Ben loves to be efficient,” Simmons’ brother Sean Tribe said. “He wants to make the correct move — not the wrong move — and sometimes that's a hindrance. You need to experiment with things, and sometimes you might fail.
"The acceptance of failure is something Ben needs to be comfortable with. That will come along through hard times, experiences of losing."
The funny thing about the notion of “the acceptance of failure” is that Simmons has yet to fail when taking a legitimate three-point attempt this season. He’s taken three threes that weren’t simply end-of-quarter heaves — one in the preseason, two in the regular season. He’s buried all three.
So how do the Sixers get it out of him? How do they unleash the full capacity of Simmons’ game?
His high school coach had one idea.
"If I were in charge of the Sixers, I'd tell him, 'If you don't take a pull-up jumper and a perimeter shot in each half — I don't care about your percentages — you're sitting,'" Kevin Boyle of Monteverde told MacMullan.
That’s one way to do it.
That’s the kind of tactic that may work for high school players, but maybe not the best approach on the NBA level. By benching Simmons, Brett Brown removes one of the most versatile defenders in the league and hurts his team’s chances to win games.
Though it’s a strategy Brown has considered, he’s gone in a different direction.
"I told Ben, 'If you aren't willing to shoot, then do I just bench you? Because I can do that,'" Brown said to MacMullan. "We could have gone that route or continue to coach him as it relates to spacing. We worked on the ability to use it as a choice to shoot the three, catch and go, get in the paint, or find someone else.
"This was all discussed. I opted to take this path. I think only down the road will we be able to truly assess if it was the right one.”
It’s fair to wonder if Brown has properly challenged Simmons when it comes to shooting. In the article, Simmons said that he sometimes needs to be pushed. The benching idea may be the most extreme version of that, but perhaps there’s something in between.
His All-Star teammate has pushed him — both publicly and in private — to shoot more for the betterment of the team.
"We've had conversations, especially when it comes to shooting," Joel Embiid said to MacMullan. "Ben can help me a lot. I feel like I've helped him a lot with his game. People keep saying, 'Oh, you have to stop spending time on the three-point line,' but I do it because Ben is such a good driver, going to the basket, that I've got to help open that up for him.
"I would like if he would do the same for me, to start shooting [3s]. But I also know how uncomfortable he is with it."
The good news: Simmons understands the importance of shooting more. He just wants to be comfortable in knowing he’s making the best play for his team.
"I know it's going to come," Simmons said. "It's a matter of me being comfortable doing it. Some of that is getting the reps in. I can take a hook shot from the elbow, because I've done it so many times, I'm confident it will go in. It's second nature.
"With threes, it's never been like that. I've got to make it a point of emphasis. I could be one of those guys shooting 30 percent right now. But I'd rather be one of those guys shooting 40 percent."
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