Ben Simmons is a very good basketball player. This is an indisputable fact. Great? Nope. A star? Sorry. Transcendent? Laughable.
Simmons is a man of many talents on the basketball court. He’s among the fastest players in recent memory baseline-to-baseline with the basketball. Court vision is near the top of the league. His defense is among the best in the game. He’s a willing and active rebounder. But Simmons has one thing that is holding him back from being great. And that one thing is Ben Simmons.
Brett Brown and his assistants have beaten their heads against the wall for three seasons, trying to coax a jump shot out of their point guard, with minimal results. We see him at practice and pregame shootaround, knocking down outside shots like it’s his job. So why don’t we see it during games?
Is it because Simmons doesn’t think he can make the shot? Can’t be. He’s as confident as any player in the league with the ball in his hands. Some believe it’s because he’s afraid of looking bad, that his mid-range game is not his strongest suit. But it’s hampering his game, and, moreover, his unwillingness to assert himself is hurting his team late in games.
Nobody concentrated on it when he was cooking NBA players in the open court as a rookie, running roughshod through the best the league had to offer. We didn’t really think much about the fact that his shot chart looked like a game of Nerfhoop we played in our bedroom when we were nine years old: dunks and lay-ups only. No sign of a mid-range game, let alone a three-pointer.
Over this past summer, Simmons teased fans with videos from open runs in Los Angeles, drilling mid-range Js and threes from every angle. Visions of a parade danced in their heads. Could this be the year?
He said all the right things. This quote from Simmons to the Associated Press in late September reads like he was ready to go next-level:
“I feel like this summer I fell in love with the game again. I kind of got back to who I was and having fun with the game … I’ve been in the gym every day working and the results have been paying off so I’m excited for the season to start.”
Terrific. Maybe he could fall in love with an 18-footer?
He toyed with us when he dropped a three in the preseason opener against a Chinese league team. In the regular season? He’s played in 39 games and taken 30 shots from more than 10 feet from the basket, making seven (23.3 percent).
After Simmons made his second (and most recent) three of the season in a 34-point night against Cleveland on Dec. 7, Brown made public what he has certainly shared with Simmons ad nauseum in private: “I want a three-point a shot a game, minimum.”
Maybe Simmons misheard. In the 18 games since, he’s taken one 3-pointer, period.
The NBA is a game of adjustments. The league figures out what your team does well and tries to take it away from you. We’ve seen, time and time again, teams wall off Simmons at the free throw line, knowing he won’t shoot a pull-up jumper. Heck, Celtics fans made a T-shirt out of it.
With the ball in his hands, Simmons is a force. But as the Sixers “walk down the game,” as they say, teams work to get the ball out of his hands. Once they achieve that, Simmons is largely a spectator, content to set screens or hang in the “dunker” spot while his teammates play 4-on-5. In the Sixers' last two games, losses to the Mavericks and Pacers, Simmons went a combined 0 for 4 for zero points in the fourth quarter.
The man’s game has no ceiling, if he’s willing to embrace the game. The answer lies within Simmons, and until he’s willing to give all of himself on the court, he, and the Sixers, are doomed to second-round playoff exits. Which is exactly where the team began The Process.
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