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The evolution of Ben Simmons’ jump shot, the key to future success for the 76ers

When will Ben Simmons develop an outside shot?

It’s a topical discussion point on the minds of hoops heads
everywhere. For fans of the Philadelphia 76ers, it’s perhaps THE
discussion point.

A fanbase that’s waited patiently while trusting the process for
years is starting to get antsy, jonesing for Simmons to take the
next step and propel the team forward in a year that appears to be
as wide open as it’s been in quite some time.

But what if he is taking those steps right now, marching forward
simply to a different beat of the drum?

Last Saturday against the Hawks midway through the third
quarter, Simmons posted up John Collins early in the shot clock,
pounded the rock a few times and lowered his shoulder to create
some separation before calmly stepping back to hit an 11-foot
fadeaway jumper.

Two days later against the Knicks, Simmons was isolated on the
right wing against Lance Thomas, about 20 feet from the rim. He
backed him down, took three hard dribbles and offered up a few
fakes before calmly knocking down yet another 11-foot fadeaway
jumper.

This is an evolution in progress, even if it might not seem like
it.

In today’s NBA with teams playing four and sometimes five out,
everyone wants floor spacers that can park on the perimeter and
dare defenders to leave them unoccupied. Help off nearly anyone
even a half-step too far and the math says you’re toast.

This is where the idea of Ben Simmons ruffles feathers. How can
a lead guard on a team with title aspirations in 2019 not execute
the most basic elements of floor spacing away from the ball?

As a rookie last season, Simmons shot 2-12 on catch-and-shoot
jumpers. Just three of them came after the All-Star break with none
of them coming in the postseason in which he played a team-high 369
minutes.

So far in 1,440 minutes this season, he’s taken three of them,
all misses.

If you’re scoring at home, that means that dating back to last
year’s All-Star break, Simmons has attempted a grand total of six
catch-and-shoot jumpers in 2,656 minutes, roughly one for every 442
minutes he spends on the floor.

The trick isn’t convincing Ben Simmons to become a player he’s
not. The trick is re-evaluating our own views on what it means to
develop an outside shot.

Late in his career, Michael Jordan’s turnaround fadeaway became
the single most unguardable shot in the entire league and one he
parlayed into three more scoring titles in the late 90s. Kobe
Bryant played copy cat and incorporated the same shot into his
arsenal en route to becoming one of the league’s all-time great
scorers.

At 6’10”, Simmons stands four inches taller than either Jordan
or Bryant. It seems outrageous to infer that he could become even
more unstoppable with a move mastered by two of the best scorers of
all-time and yet why not? With his size and otherworldly passing
ability, Simmons posting up from 18 feet with the threat of
knocking down fadeaways against length while also being uniquely
prepared to find cutters and shooters anywhere on the floor is
quietly becoming one of the league’s worst kept secrets.

Simmons isn’t there yet, but are signs of significant progress,
albeit a small sample size.

Over the first two months of the season, he shot just 3-25 on
shots from at least 10 feet out.

Since the Sixers last played the Pacers back on December 14,
he’s a far more respectable 8-26. Sure, 31% isn’t yet anything to
write home about but more than doubling your efficiency while
doubling the volume is beyond encouraging.

Nobody would ever argue that Ben Simmons suddenly turning into
JJ Redick from beyond the arc would be a bad thing.

More realistically, nobody would argue that Simmons becoming a
spot-up threat would be a bad thing.

And yet, it’s not the only path forward.

Focusing on what Simmons can do rather than harping on what he
can’t reveals a magnificent talent putting in the work on
developing a tool that few have the opportunity to even match.

We live in a world where we demand perfection from young stars
after whiffing even a hint of excellence. For Simmons, a Rookie of
the Year campaign fueled by fastbreaks and triple-doubles has
basketball fans wondering when he’ll all of the sudden start
launching spot-up jumpers.

While you’re waiting on him to develop the signature skill of
Steve Kerr, he just might reliably add the signature skill of
Michael Jordan.

Some advice?

Trust the process.



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