Why Ben Simmons should fix his shot

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Despite having a historic rookie campaign, it is imperative that Simmons address the issues surrounding his jump shot this off-season.

Ben Simmons had a historic rookie season to say the least. Entering the year, virtually all of the talking heads in the NBA, myself included, were very interested to see what exactly he would bring to the table. He has such a unique set of skills that have rarely been seen in the NBA. The bar was immediately set pretty high for his first year.

Well, he shattered all expectations and then some. Just to list a few of his accomplishments this season:

  • Averaged 15.8 PTS, 8.1 REB, and 8.2 AST per game (second rookie in NBA history to average at least 15/8/8 in a season).
  • Logged 13 triple-doubles during the regular season (second-most by a rookie in NBA history).
  • Led all rookies in assists, rebounds, and steals per game, while finishing in the top three in field goal percentage, points, and blocks per game.
  • Second rookie in NBA history to record 1,200 points, 600 assists, and 600 rebounds in a season.

Stats aside, throughout the season, Ben showcased the intangibles that have gotten him duly-labeled as a once-in-a-generation-type talent. The I.Q., the court vision, the passing expertise, the ball-handling, his ability to push the pace in the full-court and  get to the basket at will, etc.

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Add on the fact that he is 6-10 (although some swear that he is taller), 230 pounds with a 7-0 wingspan and you have an almost unstoppable force coming at you. Guys his size aren’t supposed to move the way he does, let alone be a primary ball-handler.

Yet, for as much of a maestro as he is with the ball in his hands, a lot of these abilities have, at times, blinded us from the one glaring issue in his game: the lack of a reliable jumper.

Throughout a majority of the season, playoffs included, Ben was able to get away with that deficiency. For one, Philadelphia 76ers management surrounded him with shooters, such as J.J. Redick, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, and Marco Belinelli, who were able to stretch the floor and therefore open up easier paths to the basket for Ben.

Plus, there simply aren’t a lot of players in the league who can match his unique combination of size and agility. He’s the ultimate mismatch. You put a point guard on him, and he has a clear size advantage. You put a big man on him, and he can easily blow by him to the basket. Add in the fact that he can out-reach most big men and guards, whether it’s going for a rebound or a layup, and you have a match-up nightmare for any team.

As a result, there was a clear initiative this year on Ben’s part to create most of his offense in the paint and around the basket, and the numbers show that. Of his 998 field goal attempts this season, 46.2 percent of them were from 0-3 feet from the basket, as opposed to 32.5 percent being from 3-10 feet and 17.4 percent from 10-16 feet.

He only attempted 11 threes on the year, with the majority of them being last-second heaves. But, like I said earlier, he’s so good at everything else that at times, we became convinced that he didn’t need a jump shot to continue to be successful in the NBA.

You still got the sense, though, that it would only be a matter of time before Ben ran into a team that would be able to exploit his lack of a shot and make him feel uncomfortable.

Enter the Brad Stevens-led Boston Celtics.

The Celtics are a substantially better team than a lot of us thought. Yeah they’re missing their two best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but not only are they much deeper and more talented than one would think, they also have probably the best coach in basketball at the helm.

What Brad Stevens has done with this Boston squad has been incredible. The man is a basketball genius. He’s able to take note of his opponents’ tendencies and conjure up ways to masterfully exploit them.

Unfortunately for us, Ben was the victim this time around.

The Celtics main objective in regards to guarding Ben was really to make him as uncomfortable as possible. Unlike in the Miami series where the Heat tried to do that by being overly-physical with him, Boston put him in situations where his lack of a jump shot rendered him quite ineffective.

They devised rotations that managed to keep bodies in front of Ben so he couldn’t drive to the hole, as well as at times clogging the paint so he couldn’t get an easy layup if he did get into the paint. Plus, they would sag off and very blatantly dare him to shoot, in doing so locking down the shooters he would often turn to when the defense focused on him.

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It was simple, and it worked. Even though Ben averaged 14.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game in the series, he wasn’t able to make the same impact he made throughout most of the season.

His reluctance to try and create his own offense and apparent lack of aggressiveness did not do him any favors, epitomized by his Game 2 performance in which he scored just one point and did not record a made field goal in four attempts. He simply did not look comfortable at all throughout the series.

Look, none of this should take away from the greatness that is Ben Simmons. He is still the future of the league. And he was not the sole reason the Sixers lost the series. There were a lot of factors that went into it. You win as a team and you lose as a team.

But the fact of the matter is that Ben needs to refine his jump shot if he wants to take his game to the next level. It’s virtually a guarantee that other head coaches throughout the league were taking notes on what the Celtics were doing to Ben so they can use it to their advantage next season. And if Ben is still the same player next year as he was this year, you pretty much have a blueprint on how to stop him from being productive.

Yet you should be confident that Ben will get after it this offseason, and I expect him to be a much better shooter next year. Ben himself has expressed his desire to make minor changes to his shot and Coach Brett Brown has even made it known that he wants to bring on more shooting coaches to the staff.

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If Ben manages to add even a simple 10-15 foot jump shot to his arsenal that he can make at a relatively consistent clip and gradually build upon that, it’s over. He would officially be an unstoppable force in the NBA.