It’s Not Just About Ben Simmons’ Jump Shot; He and Joel Embiid Can Unlock Each Other’s Best Game

You know how I feel about Ben Simmons, who was given a five-year, $170 million max contract by the Sixers. 

He’s an excellent defender and elite passer with great vision, a guy with the requisite height to pull down rebounds and push the ball up the floor in an offense that values transition and pace.

No, he can’t shoot, or he won’t shoot – which Crossing Broad readers point to as being the bigger problem, and I agree – but we’re talking about a 22-year-old guy entering his third professional season who has an all-NBA ceiling and an All-Star floor. The latter is a fact, as Simmons made the ASG this season without any semblance of a jump shot.

And he doesn’t need to be a 38% three-point shooter to help the Sixers succeed, so let’s get that out of the way right now. What Ben needs, in a nascent sense, is a reliable mid-range and/or elbow jumper, plus the ability to hit that occasional wide-open 24 footer. He just needs a toolbox of 2-3 shot types that command enough respect from defenders to alleviate the burden placed on Joel Embiid, who often finds himself dealing with two opponents when the second guy sags off of Ben to throw a double team, simply because Simmons doesn’t warrant being guarded on the perimeter.

For example, here’s Tobias Harris, pre-trade, pulling off Ben to double Joel Embiid in the post, because the Clippers know Ben can’t/won’t shoot, after the jump:

That’s what you’re trying to avoid, those paint-clogging scenarios where you really want to play 4-out/1-in, but you can’t, and it turns into some sort of 3-out/2-in amorphous blob instead.

I’ll give you another example.

Here’s Ben Simmons dumping the ball to a double-teamed Embiid in the post:

If Ben can hit that wide-open three-pointer with any regularity, or even step into a long-two, that double team is no longer happening. That’s really the key here and point worth reiterating; his development of a jump shot helps space the floor to the point where Embiid isn’t burdened with a second defender, since Simmons isn’t commanding any respect on the outside. That’s why he stands on the weakside under the basket (the dunker spot), since there’s nowhere else to put him.

But this does go the other way, too, with Embiid, who can help himself and Ben Simmons at the same time.

You’ve seen this scenario a million times, but I’ll write it out again:

  1. Ben Simmons drives into the paint
  2. two defenders meet him at the foul line
  3. he picks up his dribble
  4. a trailing Joel Embiid is wide open at the three-point line
  5. …but Embiid is only a career 31.5% three-point shooter, and then Twitter complains that he’s not “getting his ass in the paint”

I’m sure it’s frustrating for fans to watch, and yes, this is a problem created more by Simmons than anything, but if Embiid can hit this trailing three in the 33-35% range, defenders are going to think twice about throwing that double on Ben:

In this case, you can still send your power forward in to rebound (Wilson Chandler there, Al Horford this year), while three players get back to avoid transition opportunities in the the other direction.

You’ve seen Embiid sort of struggle with scenarios like this one over the years, i.e. the idea of ‘should I shoot this shot or not?‘ Because it’s going to be wide open every time the Sixers come down the floor, and at times he’ll fire away while in other instances you see him pull the ball down, play the other side, and go through the base offense while pulling the opposite side wing player into the action.

For what it’s worth, Brett Brown has said in the past that he’s okay with Embiid shooting the trailing three. He’s not going to put any kind of hard number on the amount of times he wants to see this shot in a game, and he elaborated on that in the Milwaukee home loss that took place in April:

We talked about (sagging off Joel) a lot on the bench and we anticipated that. It’s what (the Bucks) do. I said two things, I said, ‘if you feel it’ – because ultimately a coach can say it but the player has to feel it – ‘shoot it every time.’ If we come in and say ‘Joel shot 15 threes,’ I’m saying he’s gonna shoot 36 to 38 percent and that’s a decent (mark), you’d live with that if I’m right on that percentage. Or, if you don’t feel comfortable, which he didn’t oftentimes there, you saw it, then play the second side. Your man is so far back. You can play the dribble-handoff game with JJ, as an example. JJ is coming into daylight, which I thought we did a pretty good job of.

I thought this was the perfect example at the time, and while it’s not a trailing three, it’s an instance where Embiid was given plenty of space to shoot with Brook Lopez sitting on the elbow and Giannis sagging all the way to the restricted area while guarding Simmons:

Embiid thinks about it, then decides to pull the ball down and they run an improvised stagger hand-off to spring JJ Redick for an open three instead.

I know you might be sitting there thinking, “well this is nice, but I don’t want Embiid shooting eight three-pointers a game,” which I understand completely. But the fact of the matter is that those shots are going to be open, and if he can hit them with regularity, it’s a real annoyance for opposing teams, because now they have to think about stepping up their sagging big man, which opens the lane for Simmons instead.

And you’re not going to get 75 games at 36 minutes per of Joel Embiid running rim to rim. It’s just not going to happen, because even players in 100% pristine shape can’t handle that workload. So perhaps 5-7 times per game he’s going to be given wide-open three-point shots as a trailing big or DHO pivot, and knocking those down really opens up the floor.

Right, so that’s pretty much it for today. I could do 5,000 words on this, but let’s keep it relatively simple and to the point. The point is that it’s not just about Ben developing a jump shot, but that he and Joel can help open up the floor for each other if they’re able to convert the open looks that other teams are giving them.

If Embiid hits that three pointer at a higher clip this year, he opens up the paint for Simmons to play 1v1. Likewise, if Ben can hit consistently hit the jump shots he’s going to be given, then that makes opponents think twice about doubling and digging at Embiid in the paint.

It’s a two-way street here, a “help me, help you” kind of situation.

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