What’s Next for Ben Simmons?
Ben Simmons turned 23 this summer after completing just his second NBA season in three years. In that time, he’s averaged a pedestrian 16.4 points per game and has yet to hit a single three-point basket.
Regardless, on July 15th, Simmons agreed to a five-year, $170 million contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers.
That’s a hell of a lot of scratch for a player who has shown much more bark than bite in his career. Still, it would be foolish to ignore the immense potential Simmons clearly possesses. (From here on out, I’m reserving the right to call him Simmo; here’s why.)
Yes, Simmo is in rarified air in the NBA. Despite his shooting woes, he’s a walking triple-double, the currency dijour of NBA superstars. Even LeBron James - a fellow Klutch Sports client - has dubbed Simmo the “Young King.”
Philadelphia is expected to win north of 53 games next season. Surely with such a hefty bag fully secured, Simmo is expected to play a part in making that a reality. What happens in the postseason, too, is incumbent on Simmons continuing to improve.
What Simmons does well
That Simmo is a great passer is nothing new. Ditto his above-the-break playmaking. He truly has shades of a young LeBron James in the open court.
His rebounding is perhaps an underrated aspect of his game. Simmons is 6’10, 230 lbs, and as quick as he is athletic. With Al Horford and Joel Embiid patrolling the paint, Simmons’ skills on the glass might not be as critical an asset for Philly next season, but it is regardless an undeniable facet of his game.
Last year, Simmons averaged 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per contest. Despite my underwhelmed lede, he impacts the game across the board the way few players can.
Simmo’s defense is also spectacular. He has a knack for steals and blocks, and has the physical talents to guard most opponents. Nominally he is a point guard, but on defense his abilities are much more fluid.
What Simmons does not do well
The biggest issue in Simmo’s game isn’t just glaring, it’s almost legendary. He’s attempted just 17 regular season threes in his entire career, and just one in the postseason. (Many of these have been buzzer-beating heaves.) He’s not quite allergic to teeing up from distance, but maybe there’s something else going on.
Cowardice or not, Simmons inability or unwillingness to shoot from three is a huge issue. Even his basketball sovereign LeBron James knows better than to worry about Simmo from behind the three-point line.
At times, Simmons is quick enough to take this extra space and turn it into something meaningful. Often, however, it’s a huge liability for the Sixers.
Joel Embiid, Philly’s other hyper-talented young player, likes to operate away from the basket. He’s got a soft touch, but can’t quite manufacture his own shot the way a guard can, obviously. That’s why floor-spacing is so key when a player like Embiid is going to work.
In the postseason we saw this problem come to a head. The Sixers couldn’t keep Simmons’ defender honest and hugging the three-point line. Instead, Simmons was often hiding on the weak-side block, away from the action. This made it nearly impossible for Embiid to post-up or work close to the basket.
Throwing Al Horford into this dynamic severely muddies the water. Now there are two slow big men who need a bit of space to operate. Where exactly does Ben Simmons go when he’s off-ball and sharing the court with Embiid and Horford?
Now, perhaps Sixers head coach Brett Brown will devise some sort of inside-out style offense that leans on his big men and their ability to shoot from three. But Horford shot a tepid 36 percent from deep last year; Embiid connected on just 30 percent of threes. This solution is dicey at best.
Simmo will need to learn to shoot, and quickly for the Sixers. There’s just no way around it.