Though shooting has never been a strength for Ben Simmons, his high school coach did not consider his shot a serious issue.
On the Takeoff with John Clark podcast, Montverde Academy head coach Kevin Boyle shared his perspective on Simmons after his former player made 34.2 percent of his free throws for the Sixers this postseason.
“I think it’s more a mental thing than physical thing,” Boyle said. “I know there’s some things that have to be cleaned up there. I thought his shot was pretty good coming out of high school. He had a slight slant to the left, but very slight. And when he first got to Philly, I don’t know what really happened, but his form changed — really, technically not correct — I think maybe trying to straighten him out too much with his arm, ended up opening his arm up. It didn’t look good, and I think he lost confidence — the way it appeared, and also the result.
“You start getting some criticism, so you stop doing stuff that people are going to criticize and you get self-conscious about. ... I’ve seen him many times go 12 for 15 from the foul line, 11 for 16, 10 for 14. That was regular in high school, those type of numbers. And now you’re struggling to go 3 for 10. Obviously it’s mental, when you’ve done that before. It’s something that, if he could fix — which I think, without question, you can — you’re a top-10 player in the NBA if you’re aggressive offensively. Without question, you’re capable of getting 22 a game, 23 a game, if you’re playing downhill and aggressive.
“I almost think he needs a shot quota that he has to be put on, and he has to have some type of accountability, or substitution thing if you’re not doing it — almost like a reverse psychology. You don’t care about the results. We care about that you’re shooting and you’re going to the foul line. We want 10 foul shots a game, we want X field goals a game — that type of psychology where it will straighten itself out with work in the gym, with some corrections. Right now he’s swinging the ball from his waist to the top of his head instead of really taking it under his chin in the shooting pocket, creating a harder shot. So there’s some technical things but more than anything, I think it’s a mental thing right now, a confidence thing. And again, that’s not always easy to fix, but it definitely can be fixed.”
In December of 2019, former Sixers head coach Brett Brown said he’d like Simmons to attempt eight free throws per game. And, with Simmons just having made his second regular-season three-pointer against the Cavs, he publicly asked for more long-range tries.
“You can pass this along to his agent, his family and his friends, and to him —I want a three-point shot a game, minimum,” Brown said. “The pull-up twos, I'm fine with whenever he's open, but I'm interested in the three-point shot. And the mentality that he has where he's turning corners and taking that long step, that gather step and bringing his shoulders to the rim and trying to dunk or finish tight will equal higher efficiency or getting fouled. That's the world that interests me the most — those two things. And when you say, 'OK, what's the number?' I immediately throw out eight. For whatever reason, I'm not sure, but that's a number that I think is attainable.”
Although his free throw rate has risen each season, Simmons has not come close to approaching the territory Brown envisioned.
“I think there’s no consequence if you don’t do what they’re asking,” Boyle said. “And to me, the consequence is you’re going to shoot or you’re not going to start the next game — or you’re not going to start the half.
“A lot of it, to me, is a reverse psychology: ‘I’m confident in you. I believe in you. I know what you’re capable of. We’ve got to get this out of you and we’ve got to do something. So don’t take it the wrong way, Ben, but we’ve got to fix this, or you’re going to get criticized for not doing it. You’re playing tentative and not as confident as you can be with the ball offensively, because you probably don’t want to be criticized and talked about as not making foul shots — your very normal human reaction — but if you don’t do it, then you’re going to get probably more criticized for not shooting in the fourth quarter or being aggressive, being a liability in certain scenarios at the end of the game. Either way, you’re going to get criticism. You might as well do it being aggressive.’”
Boyle believes Simmons will emerge from this low point as a better player.
“I’m very, very confident he’ll be a star player, and a 10-time All-Star, and a three-time first or second team All-Pro, and have a championship ring,” Boyle said. “I’m very confident in that. He’s just too talented.”
You can listen to the full podcast here.