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Is Ben Simmons improving this season?

Ben Simmons is one of the Philadelphia 76ers’ best players and won the Rookie of the Year award last season. While Simmons is still a great player this season, he hasn’t appeared to have improved as much as fans had hoped.

As the top pick of the 2016 NBA draft by the Philadelphia 76ers, Ben Simmons missed the entire 2016-17 season to injury before averaging 15.8 points, 8.2 assists, 8.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 3.4 turnovers per game. Through 39 games this season, Simmons is averaging 16.4 points, 7.9 assists, 9.2 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 3.4 turnovers per game.

The biggest criticism that Simmons has faced during his short NBA career is his inability to make jump shots. While Simmons’ per game average strongly suggest that he barely improved his in second season, his shooting percentage by distance suggests his shooting has actually gotten worse this season.

During the 2017-18 season, Simmons made 69.3 percent of his shots from less than five feet, 37.3 percent from 5-9 feet, 31.8 percent from 10-14 feet, and 34.9 percent from 15-19 feet. Through 39 games this season, Simmons made 65.7 percent of his shots from less than five feet, 44.3 percent from 5-9 feet, 25 percent from 10-14 feet, and zero from 15-19 feet.

Simmons’ stats this season are being pulled down by his poor performance in the games before the Sixers traded for Jimmy Butler, so comparing his stats during the month of October (games played before Butler traded) and December (the month where Butler played the majority of his games with the Sixers) is one way to show the clear difference in his performance.

Simmons averaged 13.7 points, 8.0 assists, 10.4 rebounds, 1 steal, and 3.7 turnover per game in October. His stats drastically improved in December by averaging 17.3 points, 7.8 assists, 10.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 3.2 turnovers per game.

Going beyond per game stats and looking at how much or the percentage Simmons contributed to the Sixers in October and December, shows that the addition of Butler helped him a lot on defense. Simmons accounted for 20.6 percent of the Sixers’ overall steals and 16.7 percent of their blocks in October. In December, Simmons accounted for 25.7 percent of their overall steals and 22.2 percent of their blocks.

As frustrating as it is to see opposing teams with great defenses taking advantage of Simmons lack of a jump shot to double Joel Embiid, Simmons is clearly improving. Since Butler joined the team, Simmons has played more power forward and has spent more time playing in the post and moving without the ball on offense. Simmons’ seven-percent increase from shots made 5-9 feet away from the basket is likely coming from his improved post play.

Simmons’ more aggressive play since the addition of Butler has also resulted in him learning to draw fouls at an elite rate. Simmons drew a foul on 34.2 percent of the shots he took during the 2017-18, and is drawing a foul on 50 percent of the shots he takes this season. While Simmons is only making 58.1 percent of his free throws, that’s still a 2.1 percent increase from last season.

Simmons may never be a three-point shooter and will not become a below average mid-range shooter this season, but he’s still a young player with top five talent on a team that currently lacks the depth to make the NBA finals and there’s no reason to believe he won’t be a better player next season.

Next: Updated Sixers player rankings

Stats updated as of Jan. 8, 2019.

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