The Philadelphia 76ers’ point guard has a special gift for finding open teammates.
He doesn’t shoot threes. That is what disqualifies Ben Simmons as a top 15-20 player in today’s league for many. His lack of jump shot makes him one of the most polarizing players in today’s game. A point guard that can’t shoot?
That just doesn’t happen anymore, even centers are required to shoot or else they find themselves unwanted in the NBA — look at Andre Drummond and Clint Capela. One was on a contender and got traded and the other got traded to Cleveland for spare change in the swear jar. Even the freaking Detroit Pistons, who are stuck in dinosaur times, have realized that winning basketball is not the best option with a center who is limited to the paint.
So that begs the question, what makes Ben Simmons so special? Why can a “point guard” who cannot shoot still find himself playing at the highest level at the NBA? While also getting paid $170 million to do so?
Ben Simmons’ efficiency from three. This is it.
This seems nonsensical, how can a player who doesn’t shoot, be efficient from three? Let’s look at ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry tweet:
Ben Simmons has assisted on the most threes since his debut in the NBA, with 782. This season he ranks second in three-point assists with 230 — only three behind LeBron James. Simmons is making the most out of his non-existent jumper, trading his 25 percent three point shot — let’s assume he makes 25 percent here — for a 36.28 percent shot; which is the rate that the Philadelphia 76ers shoot the three when they receive a pass from Ben.
Just like Harden takes most of his shots from downtown, Ben Simmons always looks for the open man downtown. 52 percent of Ben Simmons assists convert to three-point shots… let that sink in. Ben Simmons accounts for 33.53 percent of the Sixers’ assisted threes. The Sixers also shoot slightly better when Simmons is the three point distributor — 0.17 percent better to be exact.
Not only does Ben Simmons look for the open man downtown, but he looks for the best shot possible.
Ben Simmons is surrounded by five Bulls players in the paint, what will Ben do? We all know Simmons is more than capable of passing it to the open man. But in this particular instance he does more than that. Simmons’ vision and ability to scan the floor quickly, is what makes him so special. So what does Simmons do?
Simmons has a wide open Embiid, Richardson and Mike Scott. There is also Thybulle who is in a position where the defender can close out easiest than the other three players available. Nonetheless, Simmons evaluates his options and knows Embiid is a weak shooter in the right zone at 23.3 percent. Richardson who has been streaky all year, is only 30.8 percent from the top of the key. Mike Scott who shoots 46 percent on the opposite side of where he is, only shoots 33.9 percent from where he is standing.
Then there is Thybulle who is at his best area at 48 percent and where the defender has the best chance to close out. Simmons decides to dish it out to Thybulle, Simmons knows that passing it to Thybulle produces the highest percentage shot. No matter how open the other three players are.
There is a reason Simmons draws comparisons to Magic and LeBron. His I.Q. and court vision is among the best in the game because he turns a good opportunity into a great one. When watching Ben Simmons you can see he does this a lot, where he picks his shooters accordingly.
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Simmons does more than orchestrate the cloud to make it rain from downtown. When Simmons is on the floor, his team also shoots 5.1 percent better around the rim, per Cleaning the Glass. The word mid-range does not apply to Simmons when passing the ball. He helps the team in the efficient areas of the game, the paint and the three-point line.
The team set up around him also makes what he is doing even more impressive. This misconstructed starting lineup consists of three players who all have a better mid-range game than three-point game (not counting Embiid). There is only ONE player in the starting lineup that shoots over league average — Harris at 36.2 percent. Richardson and Harris have always preferred the mid-range game and Horford is best at his left baseline jumper that he never gets to use. The three combined are 34.45 percent from three this season.
Simmons is still making most of a dire situation, by finding cutters through lobs and bounce passes and absorbing pressure in the paint to create open space for outside shooters. Simmons is adapting to the three-point shot in other ways unheard of. Just imagine if this team was built right with good shooters.
There is a reason that the 2017-18 Sixers team had the highest net rating of any team Simmons and Embiid was on. It maximized what Embiid and Simmons was doing and let the other three do the spot up shooting and cutting to the net. That Embiid-Simmons team shot an incredible 67.3 percent around the rim, which is 2.7 percent higher compared to now. They also shot 37.6 percent from three, which is 0.8 percent higher than now.
That team maximized Simmons’ passing and scoring ability in the paint. Spacing was good, therefore, the Sixers were good. The Simmons-Redick-Covington-Saric-Embiid lineup ranked highest for any lineup logging over 300 minutes. It had a net rating of 20.5.
The best three point shooter was Redick at 42 percent — 5.8 percent better than the Sixers’ current best. The combination of Redick-Covington-Saric shot a combined 39.25 percent from three. No wonder this team was so good and had 52 wins with (almost) two rookies leading the team in Simmons and Embiid.
Simmons wasn’t even in his final form yet, that season only, 44.79 percent of his assists were from three. That is seven percent less than now, despite having the better constructed team around him. Simmons had 296 three points assists total as to where this season he was on pace for 349, had he played all 82 games. He is currently yielding 2.45 points per assist which ranks among the league’s best and it is not accounted for anywhere. While the second closest, LeBron James, yields 2.37 points per assist.
Perhaps this is looking too much into it, but it is interesting to see that Ben Simmons leads the league in providing the highest-value assist. Just like shots behind the three-point line yield more points than a long two, Ben Simmons is continuously looking for the open man behind the arc more than anywhere else.
It is something that doesn’t get mentioned enough, and despite not playing a modern game by learning how to shoot, he is modernizing his game in other ways. He creates the most efficient assists out of anyone in the league. Yes, he doesn’t shoot. Yes, if he didn’t have his passing ability he’d just be another unwanted Clint Capela or Andre Drummond, who are limited to set picks and then roll to the basket all day.
But lucky for him and lucky for the viewers, he does have that passing ability, that tremendous vision and ultra ray scan that allows him to seek the best available shot on the floor. That ability is what sets him apart from being a regular PF/C and one of the league’s best point guards.
We will always want him to shoot and hope he does, but we should always want him to seek the best shot available on the floor because that is what makes him so special and the best three point manufacturer in the league.