CAMDEN, N.J. — Ben Simmons has plenty of strengths as a basketball player. His ability to handle the ball and find his teammates at 6-foot-10 is special. Shooting, however, continues to stand out as a weakness.
In the Sixers’ series loss to the Celtics, Simmons made 1 of 6 shots from 10 feet and out. Boston gave him space to shoot and it was clear that, at this stage in his development, he’s not comfortable attempting anything outside of the paint.
Thursday, Simmons acknowledged his jumper is one of the areas he needs to work on this offseason. While some think that radical alterations are necessary, including Jalen Rose and JJ Redick, who have suggested Simmons should be shooting with his right hand, Simmons said he’ll only be making “minor” changes. He recognizes that improving his jumper would force defenses to guard him differently.
“I think it just takes time shooting the ball,” Simmons said. “Obviously I’m very good at getting to the rim and making plays, so that’s what [the Celtics] were trying to stop me doing, and they did a good job of doing that. It’s one of those things where you just want to improve your game and get better, and once you start hitting the shots, they change up their defense, so everything has a counter.”
Al Horford, the Celtics’ primary defender on Simmons, had an interesting perspective on how much greater of an offensive threat Simmons will be if he can develop his shot.
“He’s already difficult to guard,” Horford said before Game 4. “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].”
Simmons knows that opposing defenses will have a lot more trouble if they can’t always default to the strategy of sagging off him and clogging the lane.
“I think offensively, it’s going to be tough to stop me,” he said. “And then obviously for the team, we have another guy who can knock down shots and score, and a guy who can make plays. So I think it’s going to be scary.”
Heading into this season, Simmons said his focus was on getting better as a leader and facilitator. He’s confident he can address the one glaring weakness in his game this offseason.
“There’s never been a year where I haven’t gotten better at something,” Simmons said.
Even without a remotely dependable jump shot to speak of, Simmons posted 15.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.2 assists during his first regular season in the NBA. And despite some of his struggles in the playoffs, most notably in a dismal Game 2 against the Celtics, Simmons averaged 16.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 7.7 assists in the postseason.
Is that résumé worthy of winning Rookie of the Year? If he wins it, Simmons said he has his teammates to thank.
“It just means I have great teammates who can knock down shots,” Simmons said of possibly winning Rookie of the Year. “It would mean a lot, but I don’t really judge my success on one accolade, so whatever the decision is, it is. But obviously, I’d take myself over anybody.”