Why I expected more from Ben Simmons in his sophomore season

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Ben Simmons

I’m just going to say it: I expected more from Ben Simmons this year. He has not taken the step I expected him to take.

Let me be clear, I did not expect him to come out in 2018 and be a completely different player. I did not expect Simmons to be a prolific shooter. I didn’t even expect him to attempt a three. I DID, however, expect Simmons to use the summer to plug up some of the holes in his game. 

Simmons was technically not an All-Star last year, but to me, he absolutely was.

Simmons has a ton of things you cannot teach a basketball player. He’s a 6’10” point guard, with incredible vision, and he plays an unselfish game. I am incredibly happy the Sixers were fortunate enough to get Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.

Those aforementioned things are why Simmons frustrates me as a player.

He has so much talent to offer, and the only thing he really struggles to do, can be fixed. The art of shooting, as any NBA player will tell you, is about reps.

If you really want to be a great shooter in the NBA, you have to put thousands of shots up a day. Shooting success can come naturally, but it can also be mastered by the sheer power of will.

Ben Simmons can be a respectable NBA shooter, but he has to want it. After seeing Simmons post on Instagram about putting in the work this past summer, I was giddy to see Simmons take a step in the right direction.

The 2018 season is underway and one thing is clear: Simmons looks the same, for the most part. What is unclear, is what exactly he was working on this summer.

Ben Simmons
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports.

Again, I want to reiterate that Simmons, if he never improves from his current state, is an NBA All-Star, but I see so much more in the 22-year-old.

I did not expect Simmons to have a brand new shot, but I did expect Simmons to find a way to progress on the offensive side of the ball.

All I really expected was a change of approach, and a willingness to work on his jumper. Yet, we still see Simmons sprint to the paint and kick it out. We still see Simmons unwilling to take wide open jumpers from the elbow.

Let me supplement this take with statistics.

While his field goal percentage is misleading due to his shots being mostly layups, dunks, or floaters in the paint, there is a stat that cannot be twisted with a narrative: Free throw percentage.

Simmons shot an abysmal 56 percent from the line in his rookie season. Simmons is a point guard, of all positions, and that is simply unacceptable.

Simmons in 2018, through the early stretch of the season, is shooting 61 percent from the line. While it is improved slightly, the sample size is small, and it is still a horrible showing.

Free throws are exactly what their name implies, they’re FREE.

For a player who does not like to shoot, making teams pay for fouling you is paramount. For now, smart defensive teams simply fouls Simmons, and this cuts his scoring in half.

An example of the change I was hoping for, was the offseason Joel Embiid had.

Embiid is not a completely different player, but he’s changed his approach, and it is obvious. Embiid realized that his size and physical dominance is too powerful to ignore, and has started to really play “bully ball.”

Embiid already has gotten to the line over 20 times in a single contest. Embiid made improvements by changing his approach, and its already paying dividends. Teams simply cannot stop JoJo. Embiid makes teams pay at the line for fouling him.

Simmons has everything you cannot teach, and lacks what can be corrected with effort. There is absolutely no excuse for not spending most of last offseason shooting free throws in the gym. I simply cannot understand why this was not priority number one.

I have a hard time shaking the idea that Simmons may believe his current skill set is good enough already, and that will limit his ceiling, potentially stunting his growth.

Simmons can be in the gym 24 hours a day if he wants to, but nothing will change if he only works on what he can already do. Defenses know he is severely limited offensively, and it makes defending him much easier than if he could hit wide open mid-range jumpers.

To make matters worse, your other No. 1 overall pick in Markelle Fultz, who is also a guard, can’t shoot either. When a team knows the point and shooting guards cannot make them pay on the perimeter, game planning against the Sixers becomes easier.

There is a problem when technical foul free throws are offered to the Sixers, and neither guard takes the shot, instead electing for someone like Mike Muscala to take the attempt. That is embarrassing.

Ben Simmons is already an incredible basketball player, but his potential is limitless, and the only person who can stop him, is Ben Simmons. 

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