The reasons why Ben Simmons is the projected no. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft are his superlative skill set and overall heightened feel for the game. As an ambidextrous, position-less swing 6-foot-10 forward with guard skills, high mobility and next level passing awareness, Simmons has drawn likings to Magic Johnson and LeBron James, and what he also shares in common with those all-time greats is being considered a non-shooter.
Shooting is of course one of the fundamental facets of basketball. In the NBA, which is often called a “make-or-miss” league, making jump shots is essential, especially in today’s climate where threes are being hoisted at the highest rate in history and bigs are being given more shooting freedom. Besides his inherent motor, the only critique of Simmons, and possibly his only weakness, is jump shooting.
As seen from his shot chart at LSU this past season, Simmons did his damage in the painted area, barely even attempting many shots from 15 feet and out (he only had three attempts from three-point land all season). This is his game, and it was enough to have him still be coveted as the top pick in the draft. Can Simmons be considered a successful NBA player without making a significant improvement with his shooting? I believe he can, because there are credible examples in his favor.
Tony Allen and Andre Roberson are the kinds of non-shooters that opponents literally leave open and dare to shoot. The shots they do make are only a luxury because they’re not expected to, but they earn their pay with intangibles and primarily being presences on the defensive end, respectively.
Andre Iguodala is a special case. He’s more of a sometimes shooter. Iguodala has found himself in a special situation in Golden State where he’s not having to take too many shots, but he answers the call when they need him to be aggressive in taking what the defense offers him. He gets his fair share of open looks created for him as a member of the best passing team in basketball. Iguodala’s kind of shot-taking is low risk, high reward.
The ultimate aforementioned example of a successful non-shooter is LeBron James, but there’s also someone like Dwyane Wade, who’s only shot more than 100 threes in one season since 2011-12. Unlike Allen, Roberson, and Iguodala, Wade is still considered an elite offensive player, and as we saw in several instances in these playoffs, he can still make the three when he needs to take it.
I despise when fans analyze a player by simply saying he/she “can’t shoot”. Those players have made enough jump shots throughout their basketball careers to prove otherwise, even if it didn’t manifest as a strong point in their game. Ben Simmons is coming into the league as such, and his development will understandably focus heavily on that aspect of his game. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of NBA jump shooter Simmons becomes, and how he prioritizes becoming a better shooter, because frankly, the other parts of his game are so sharp that he can still become a high impact player without having to become an elite shooter.