Brett Brown said several times over his final season as the Sixers’ head coach that Ben Simmons’ jump shot was an “overblown” subject.
It seems that his replacement is starting out on the same page.
“I don’t know yet,” Doc Rivers said Monday of how he'd approach Simmons' shot. “I’m not that concerned by it like everyone else is. I really am not. I’m concerned about figuring out the best way to win. If it takes doing all that, then we’re going to figure that out. Again, I’m so much concerned about team scoring than individual scoring. Individuals can create scoring. And Ben has proven that he is a guy that can create scoring, whether that’s him doing it or him creating scoring for anyone else on the team.
“But this is what I know about Ben: He’s an All-Star, he’s an All-Defensive player, and the games that him and Joel (Embiid) have played together, they win 65 percent of the time. So I don’t see a lot of bad there. Listen, he’s young, and I’m sure that there’s things that we’re going to work on and get him better at, and get him better at attacking. But I can’t tell you yet how I’m going to do that. I just have confidence that we can get this team winning and being a winner.”
There’s nothing objectionable in Rivers’ early thoughts on Simmons and his jumper. He’s correct that Simmons creates a lot of points. The 24-year-old averaged 16.4 points and 8.0 assists this season, with a little over half of those assists coming on three-point shots. And he’s correct that Simmons and Embiid have proven they can win games together, albeit not yet beyond the second round of the playoffs.
As Simmons’ perimeter attempts have dropped, his shooting efficiency has risen. He’s also faring worse on his attempts from 10 feet and out — just 6 for 37 this season. It’s never been as simple as the Sixers automatically becoming a better team if Simmons shoots more, and Rivers is right to recognize it’s an area he’ll have to further assess.
In terms of Simmons’ offensive role, Rivers initially echoed the Australian’s attitude about labels.
“… If you’ve watched my teams, I rarely say that a guy is a 1, a 2 — I don’t get lost in the minutiae,” Rivers said. “I don’t get lost in what position guys play.”
One clear objective Rivers did set is that he wants the Sixers to play faster. The team went from eighth in pace during the 2018-19 season (102.59) to 20th this past year (99.59). At least on the surface, a quicker pace should feed into Simmons’ strengths.
“Well, just from years of experience, there’s no such thing as a complete team,” Rivers said. “There really isn’t; every team has flaws. ... For me, I’ve always had the ability to play around those. I don’t get stuck on them. I don’t get stuck on what you can’t do as a group. I spent a lot with Red Auerbach, who used to tell me and drill it in my head: ‘If they can’t do it, don’t do it. Stay away from it. Do something else. Create an action.’ If you’re not a great shooting team, create more movement. Increase your speed, play from different spots.
“I don’t think this is a bad shooting team. You look at it, I think they were ninth in field goal percentage from the three last year. They have proven they can make shots. I want to increase the pace, I can tell you that, with this team. And this team, we have to get them in the top 10 in offense, and last year we were not. So we have to figure that out, how to do that. Again, I haven’t been around long enough to see that. I’ll talk to a lot of coaches who were here in the past and I’ll bring in a new staff, and we’ll figure it out.”
The topic of Simmons’ jumper won’t die anytime soon — from the outside, anyway — but it sounds like Rivers understands there are many other aspects of the Sixers’ offense worth addressing.