76ers

What Al Horford's unique development as a shooter can tell us about Ben Simmons

What Al Horford's unique development as a shooter can tell us about Ben Simmons

Al Horford hasn’t always been good at everything.

As a 33-year-old with 12 seasons of NBA experience and five All-Star appearances, Horford is skilled in most aspects of the game. Interior defense? He’s excellent at it and was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2017-18. Passing? The big man averaged 4.6 assists per game in his three seasons with the Celtics. Setting good screens, marshalling the defense and generally making smart, winning plays? It’s his trademark.

But it took a while before Horford added outside shooting to his long list of tools. Looking back at the early history of Horford’s career, his stats give you no indication that he’d eventually be a “stretch five” type of player, someone who’s shot 37.1 percent from three-point range on 927 attempts over the last four years.

He made no three-point shots in his three college seasons at Florida and was 0 for 6 from long range in his first two NBA seasons. Horford was named to his first All-Star Game in 2009-10, a season in which he made his one and only three-point shot, and he hit 9 of 22 over the next four years. He took a small step forward in 2014-15 for the 60-win Atlanta Hawks, converting 11 of 36 threes.

It wasn’t until the 2015-16 season, at 29 years old, when Horford started to let it fly with regularity, attempting 256 threes — 220 more than the season prior — and making 88.

Ben Simmons, like Horford, had no three-point makes in his first two professional seasons. According to Tobias Harris — a player who also has improved remarkably as a shooter over his career — Simmons was knocking them down from the perimeter during a recent workout in Los Angeles. 

 … He's in the gym religiously every day — grinding, getting better," Harris said at a press conference Friday. "He's in great shape. Everyone was trying to figure out why I was guarding him at the three-point line. It was really because he hit two of them. I dared him to hit two of them and he hit two in a row — that's why I was there. He's made big improvements on his game. His jump shot is looking really good. He has confidence to shoot it. I just kept telling him there, even in these workouts when you’re playing, have the confidence to shoot them and don't get discouraged when you miss …

The Sixers have committed $170 million to Simmons over the next five years in spite of his lack of a reliable shot and because, as was the case with Horford, he didn’t need one to be a deserving All-Star. Horford’s development as a jump shooter is unique, but it helps provide context for Simmons’ situation.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that there’s no shared path — jump shots don’t all evolve at the same pace. Improvement is contingent on factors like fixing flawed form, natural touch and, as Harris alluded to, the confidence to take jumpers in games and the go-ahead to do so from teammates and coaches.

It’s also not blindly optimistic to review Horford’s past, consider Simmons’ future and conclude that the 22-year-old All-Star is likely only going to get better as a shooter. After hitting 25 of 99 shots from 10 feet and out last season (25.3 percent), it would be very surprising to see Simmons regress.

It would be stunning if Simmons followed Horford’s trajectory, too. You’d imagine his form will have to undergo significant remediation before he’s a good three-point shooter — players with flared elbows and inconsistent mechanics don’t typically fit that description.

However, two seasons is far too small of a sample size to judge Simmons’ shot a lost cause.

As we noted on the night he agreed to join the Sixers, Horford shared that same opinion a little over a year ago. 

“He’s already difficult to guard,” Horford told NBC Sports Philadelphia during the Sixers’ 2018 playoff series against the Celtics. “Like all players, we all make progressions. When I came in the league, I wasn’t shooting much outside the paint. And over the years, I’ve expanded my game — you can say that about a lot of guys. And I feel like with him, it’ll just be another weapon in his arsenal, that he will continue to develop that [jumper].”

His perspective is one worth listening to. 

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2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

A day after the NBA’s Board of Governor’s approved a 22-team return to play format, the NBPA did so Friday evening, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

All 28 player reps approved the plan, which would see 22 teams head to Walt Disney World in Florida to finish out the 2019-20 season beginning July 31. The league will play eight regular-season games with the possibility of a play-in tournament for the eighth seed. The playoffs will follow the traditional format.

One of the new pieces of information presented Friday is that there will also be two or three preseason games before the season resumes.

On TNT Thursday night, commissioner Adam Silver said the league is in the “first inning” in its quest to return to play. The NBA suspended the season on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. 

According to Charania, players will undergo testing every day and there will be a minimum seven-day quarantine for any player that tests positive. If a player does contract the virus, play would continue.

“Of course we’ve always been looking for whether or not there is an appropriate and safe way that we can resume basketball,” Silver said, “and knowing that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while. … We’ve been exploring with the players whether there can be a new normal here.”

Another sticking point was a tentative date of Nov. 10 to start training camps for the 2020-21 season. Oct. 12 would be the last possible date for Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals under this return-to-play plan. The NBPA told the players it’s “unlikely” the 2020-21 season would start on Dec. 1 and that it’s still being negotiated, per Charania.

With no fans in the stands, the two sides have also discussed pumping fan noise in courtesy of NBA2K.

The league and NBPA are still continuing to work out the health and safety details in the weeks leading up to a return.

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2020 NBA Draft profile: Jordan Nwora is a proven scorer, shooter

2020 NBA Draft profile: Jordan Nwora is a proven scorer, shooter

Jordan Nwora

Position: Forward
Height: 6-7
Weight: 225
School: Louisville

Six months ago, Jordan Nwora seemed like a lock to be selected in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft. Nwora was the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, poised to lead Louisville to a big season and cement his status as one of the best players in all of college basketball.

By all accounts, he had a very good — if not great — junior season. Nwora averaged 18 points and just under eight rebounds per game for a Louisville team that finished with a 24-7 record. He was named First Team All-ACC and finished second in conference player of the year voting behind Duke’s Tre Jones.

Yet here we are looking ahead to the draft and Nwora is considered a fringe first-round pick who is more likely to be selected in the second round. 

So, what went wrong? There are a couple theories. One, Nwora struggled in a handful of marquee games last season. He scored just eight points on 2 of 10 shooting in a loss at Kentucky and was held to six points on 3 of 12 shooting at Duke a couple weeks later. To make matters worse, he scored a total of seven points in back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson in mid-February.

There are also doubts as to whether Nwora showed enough improvement between his sophomore and junior seasons. Does he work hard enough? Is he committed to improving his game? These are questions that will follow Nwora as the draft approaches.

Strengths

Nwora is a proven scorer. He averaged 17 points as a sophomore and 18 points as a junior. He did so wearing a target on his back, particularly this past season. Opponents game planned to slow him down and he still put up big numbers against very good competition. 

He’s also a very efficient three-point shooter. Nwora shot better than 37 percent from long range during his sophomore year. He was even better last season, making 40 percent of his three-point attempts. His combination of size and shooting ability is very attractive to NBA talent evaluators.  

Weaknesses

Ball handling and defense top the list. Nwora should be an effective spot-up shooter in the NBA but his ability to create his own shot is questionable. His ball handling skills need significant improvement to be considered NBA-ready.

There are also legitimate concerns about his ability to defend on the pro level. Is he quick enough to guard smaller players on the perimeter? Is he strong enough to hold his own in the paint and on the boards? If Nwora ends up slipping to the second round, the defensive question marks will be the biggest reason why. 

Fit

Nwora could very well be selected early in the second round. The Sixers currently own the 34th and 36th picks and they need shooters. Nwora certainly fits that description. 
    
The Sixers could target him for his shooting ability and live with his shortcomings on the defensive end of the floor. Nwora to the Sixers isn’t a far-fetched scenario and definitely warrants serious consideration.  

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