Ben Simmons always brushes off the jump shot question. One word answers with no real interest in talking about the topic. It’s been that way for at least a year now.
And it’s whatever in my book. It’s fine. He knows it’s a part of his game he has to develop. I’m not sure what he really can say, or what we expect him to say, but I’d love for Ben to just give us a generic bullshit quote instead of one-word answers. Give us something like this –
“Shooting? For sure, you know I think it’s important for me to continue working on that. I know it’s the next logical step in improving my game and helping the team.”
That’s a fake quote, but I like it. It’s a good fake quote, and if Ben defaults to something like that when asked about his jump shot, it will probably help him a bit. It will do more for the MACRO-LEVEL PERCEPTION that he really cares about adding this skill to his game. Yes, perception is ultimately bullshit, but it helps direct media and fan narratives in a positive direction, rather than a negative one.
To the latter point, Monday we got a goofy exchange with Howard Eskin:
Man that’s so awkward. Try being 10 feet away from that conversation.
Anyway, I don’t have to tell you what a reliable jumper would do for Ben. It would really help him space the floor, it would make teams think twice about double-teaming Joel Embiid, and it would give him another transitional tool to use when he runs into resistance near the foul line. It just helps open up the half-court offense instead of forcing Ben into weakside post positions, where he becomes a glorified Reggie Evans instead of a dynamic, playmaking big man.
Ben actually shot fewer times from distance this year, if you can believe it, but here’s what Basketball Reference says for his regular season totals:
He took fewer attempts from 10+ feet this year, as the budding elbow jumper we saw towards the tail end of last year completely disappeared. Instead we got a more assertive Ben who pushed his game closer to the basket, instead of further away.
Year to date changes from 2018 to 2019:
- average field goal distance down from 5.5 feet to 4.1 feet
- percentage of attempts from within 3 feet UP to 57.1% from 46.2%
- percentage of attempts from 3-10 feet basically the same
- percentage of attempts from 10-16 feet DOWN to 7.7% from 17.4%
Here’s Ben’s final regular season shot chart, which shows 799 attempts right at the rim and only 155 from elsewhere:
I didn’t count the “threes,” since those were either late shot clock or buzzer-beating heaves, but when you look in that non-paint area, there’s really nothing there.
Compare it to last year:
Of course a lot of this is aggressive Ben attacking the rim, as I mentioned. That’s great; that’s what you want. More of his shots took place at the rim because he made a concerted effort to beat his man off the dribble and get to his best spot on the court, and that was probably where he improved the most this year – showing aggressive flashes and developing a nascent post game, in lieu of moving his game further out and growing in that area.
Say whatever you will about Howard, but he’s persistent, and today he asked Brett Brown if he’s okay with his point guard not shooting:
Brown: I wished he would. If I’m sitting in front of you and he’s 26, I think the conversation would be a little bit more disingenuous. But it’s part of what we say, and it’s going to be this discussion, I think probably for a few years, where none of you (the media), led by you (Howard Eskin) are going to be happy unless he’s cranking up ten 15-footers a game.
Eskin: How about one?
Brown: Yeah I hear you, I hear the question. It’s a fair one, and Ben knows this, too. But I stand by, this isn’t going to be the thing that defines him immediately. It will at some point, for sure. And I feel like how it played out with Jimmy having the ball and us putting (Ben) in different floor spots, he’s shown the type of versatility that we should all be thrilled with at age 22 and 6’10” that I can use in different areas.
The versatility is excellent. Ben can develop further as an off-ball cutter and as a screener, where I think he is underrated. I’d like to see more of that next year, screening. He can do a lot of different things out there, and sometimes that comes back to bite you in the ass, because you’re sitting there thinking, ‘okay, which one of these skills is his best skill?’ His game is not as cut and dry as most NBA players who have a more narrow skill set. If you only do 2-3 things well, your role is pretty obvious. If you’re Ben Simmons, and you 4-5 things well, it’s a little more difficult.
Here’s what Elton Brand had to say about Ben’s jumper:
We had great, direct conversations. (He’s) 22 years old, Rookie of the Year, already an All-star, and he’s committed to getting better. Our exit meeting was about things that he’s working on. Of course everyone says shooting, but just be comfortable shooting. His defense was elite this year. So many facets to his game that’s going to grow and he’s only scratched the surface. Again, he’s 22 so a great future and great core pieces for us.
This summer, we’re putting together plans. And whatever’s the case may not be the case. He may not shoot 15 footers. We know that our staff, we’re looking forward to putting the people around him so we can grow his game. So personally he can work with whoever he wants but as a staff, we’re going to put in place people that he can work with also.
Another thing to focus on this summer is Ben again working with his brother, and Brand reiterated that players are allowed to work with whomever they choose in their own time. Ben will also be working with Sixers staffers when he’s around the team. Today Derek Bodner asked about that topic, and whether it might be a tricky idea working with a family member. Is Ben too close to his brother? Would someone else give him a harder push?
I have known his brother since he was four years old. He is a basketball coach, and he is a committed basketball coach. Is he too close to produce results? I don’t think so. And in fact with the family I think there is an insulation in a good way to call him out, to help him get into a gym. There’s not any sort of head fakes or fear of choice words to get into a gym and work, and to Ben’s credit, that hasn’t been pulling teeth, he has put in time. I think that if you looked at his free throw percentage from last year to this year, although it is not a significant jump, he has improved. And as I’ve said to all of you many times. I wished for more human reasons that he experienced greater improvement, because I think his work put in warranted that. That’s the free throw. As it related to his shot, I have felt and it hasn’t maybe happened as quick as you would have wished, that the improvement to a free throw can progress out to a 15-foot jump shot. That connection, that evolution in my coaching experience I have seen that, and we haven’t seen it as much as I thought we would. Who he will be working with this summer is still being discussed. They do have lives outside of the Philadelphia 76ers that involve agents and people that they want to work with personally. His brother will continue to work with Ben, I believe he said that, and I endorse it. I think that it’s a relationship that I don’t see at all harmful. In fact I think it has a chance to be very productive.
Ben’s free throw shooting improved from 56% to 60%. His overall field goal percentage increased to 56.3%, up from 54.5%. He took 1.2 more free throws per 36 minutes this year, so the improvements were there, they just maybe were not as significant as people had hoped.
But I do agree 100% with Brett Brown and Elton Brand when they point out that Ben is 22 years old and heading into his third NBA season. Most 22 year olds are not running point guard in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Ben might be ahead of the curve from an experience and athleticism and overall skill-set standpoint, but the jump shot unlocks everything else in this offseason.
If Ben Simmons without a jumper is a 22-year-old All-Star, then Ben Simmons with a jumper is a top-ten NBA player for the next half-decade. That’s the glass-half-full viewpoint on this topic.