On – 10 Oct, 2017 By Kyle Neubeck
Watching Ben Simmons play basketball, you find it hard to believe this is his first season playing in the NBA. His skill level is absurdly high for a 21-year-old with nothing but amateur experience.
But there’s a question that will persist no matter how many lobs he connects on, no matter how many smaller defenders he abuses in the post: how’s the jump shot?
The root of that question stems not from Simmons’ failure as a shooter — though he certainly isn’t good there — but his total disinterest in even attempting shots from outside the paint. He took a jump shot five minutes into the first quarter against the Boston Celtics on Friday night, the first such attempt he made during the preseason.
It went about as you’d expect.
He even doubled that tally in the third quarter, when he backed down Jaylen Brown in the mid-post and got fouled on a fadeaway attempt. But for the Sixers fans who simply want to see him shoot for the sake of it, Brett Brown insists that’s not the path forward for Simmons.
“I don’t feel like that, nor do I feel like that with Markelle it’s going to be the thing that defines him. It’s probably going to be the thing that people pay the most attention to, but for me it isn’t,” said Brown during Friday’s pre-game availability. “Our goal for him has always been finishing at a high percentage, and becoming a 70-percent plus free-throw shooter in his first NBA season and growing it. It has nothing to do with his three-point shot, or even his pull-ups.”
If that is indeed the team’s stance, Simmons has plenty to work on in the finishing department. He was elite around the rim during his lone season at LSU, converting on 75.2 percent of his shots in the painted area, but he also played a much different style than he’s likely to at the NBA level. Brett Brown is adamant on Simmons running the offense as a point guard, and while he did that a ton at LSU, he also spent a lot of time bullying smaller defenders in the post.
Early on, teams are sagging pretty far off of him on the perimeter, knowing he’s unlikely to attempt a three. On this first quarter possession, both Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward give him room to breathe, yet Simmons is able to generate a trip to the free-throw line anyway.
This sort of play shows why Simmons needs to be, as Brown described it, a 70-plus percent free-throw shooter. He will make his living as a scorer by leveraging his size and athleticism to score around the basket, forcing teams to either foul him or give up easy layups and dunks. The free-throw battle may be easier said than done: he’s just 7/18 from the charity stripe through his first three preseason games.
Failing that, Simmons will also rely heavily on floaters and tough-angle shots. His touch on these sort of plays is inconsistent, but still impressive for his size, which is strange considering his touch problem on jump shots.
Even if he’s not the one finishing the play, Simmons’ athleticism is going to put teams on their heels in transition. Provided his teammates can get down the floor at the same pace, there will be plenty of open layups created by Simmons’ end-to-end speed.
some may say ben is fast
i would agree pic.twitter.com/4EAWJsWpn8
— kurt (@kurtwearshats) October 7, 2017
The Sixers are also challenging Simmons to be a star on defense, and his role there will be as unique as it is on offense. In Friday’s preseason game against Boston, Simmons guarded players from 1-4, taking the challenge of stopping Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, and other Boston wings throughout the evening.
As of right now, the results are still mixed.
As Brown noted after that game, one of the primary concerns will be Simmons’ navigation through screens and motion off-the-ball, and Boston was able to misdirect him at times on Friday.“To just come down and guard somebody, I think Ben can do that,” said Brown. “When you have to start chasing through pin downs and gaggle actions and different curl cuts, it gets a little bit difficult. I think when it was static, he was pretty good.”
But for brief stretches, you could see why Brown wants to have him try different roles on defense. His man ultimately gets an open look on this play, but he does a great job keeping the smaller Irving in front of him, and only allows a three after rotating to prevent an open layup from Jahlil Okafor’s man.
The important thing so far is that Simmons has been plenty engaged. His commitment to defense was the biggest knock on that end coming out of LSU, and though we’re only a few preseason games deep, he has been engaged on that front, even in transition.
Sixers fans have been enticed by the idea of stronger results this season, but the process is still more important for Simmons and his young peers. This group is still learning to play together, still learning just how big the step-up in competition is at the pro level. So long as you’re seeing Simmons get to his spots on offense and remaining in the right spots on defense, fans shouldn’t worry too much about offensive inconsistency.
If the jumper comes soon? Great. If not, Simmons already has the look of a player who will star in this league for a long time.