Ben Simmons’ game has been dissected from countless angles since the Sixers took him with the first pick in the 2016 NBA draft.
Was the fact that he took so few jump shots and wasn’t very effective when he did fire from the perimeter problematic in the big picture? Besides the jumper, which parts of Simmons’ game could he improve? Just how valuable were all the things he did well, like being brilliant in transition, setting up his teammates for open three-pointers and stifling the opponent’s best player?
Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich, a man who’s seen and accomplished quite a lot, including five NBA championships, distilled it all down to this Sunday night before his team played the Sixers:
“It would enhance his game, obviously. That can’t be argued with. But all of his physical skills, basketball skills, the way he understands the game, as unselfish as he is — he’s so elite already, who gives a damn if he can’t shoot.”
There you have it.
Simmons, who’s back with the Sixers after an NBA-mandated quarantine following exposure to an individual who tested positive for COVID-19, has made only two three-pointers this season and four in his NBA career. He’s also assisted on 129 of the Sixers’ 403 made threes this year. Simmons’ teammates are shooting 39.7 percent on threes off of his passes.
Those who watch the Sixers regularly see that Simmons has improved in a few key areas. The 24-year-old is widely regarded as one of the league’s best and most versatile defenders. His free throw rate and free throw percentage are both at career bests. He’s having his most efficient season from the post (1.16 points per possession, per NBA.com/Stats), which isn’t a surprising figure given the growing dependability of his righty hook and increased aggression against smaller, less strong players.
Still, Simmons isn’t averaging over 20 points per game or draining jumpers in opponents’ faces. That doesn’t mean he’s entirely neglected his jumper, of course, but it appears he continues to feel he’s not a good enough shooter for contested threes or pull-up twos to be efficient plays for himself or the team.
“As soon as you step past that three-point line, it’s a two-pointer,” he said before the season. “My job is to get to the rim and get fouled, get to the line. I’m obviously trying to get to the line a lot more this year, be a threat at the rim and just play my game — get guys open and make plays.”
Sixers assistant coach Sam Cassell works with Simmons on many parts of his game, among them avoiding turnovers and running the Sixers’ offense. And yes, Simmons practices jump shots behind the scenes and before every game.
If he was shooting and swishing jumpers in the games themselves, would he be a better player? Is he already excellent in many ways? We’ll refer you to Popovich’s comment.