More to Do | Phenom Gets Off-Season Gameplan for Offense
On the heels of the 76ers’ breakout season coming to an end in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, we’ll be spending a few days publishing short stories as part of our “More to Do” content series, which will focus on how the team, and its players, can build off the eye-opening success they enjoyed in 2017-2018.
Part I: Embiid, MVP?
Part II: A Destination With Increasing Appeal
Part III: Phenom Gets Gameplan for Offense
It might have been a prominent subject that surfaced at the outset of Brett Brown’s 45-minute end-of-season news conference, but the matter of Ben Simmons and his jumpshot ranks not first, or even second, on the off-season to-do list the 76ers crafted for the Rookie of the Year finalist.
With Simmons already proving to be exceptionally proficient at getting to the basket at such an early stage of his career, it’s understandable that the state of his jumpshot has become such a focal point.
But the 21-year old’s elite knack for attacking the interior also represents the very reason why Brown considers it more immediate for Simmons to address two particular aspects of his offense, before diving into fine-tuning his jumper.
First, there’s Simmons’ free throw shooting, and after that, his efficiency finishing at the rim.
These areas are entirely related to Simmons’ ability to get inside.
This past season, on the free throw front, Simmons averaged 4.2 foul shots in nearly 34 minutes per game. Brown would like to see this rate increase.
Additionally, the head coach’s hope is to eventually turn Simmons into a 75.0 percent shooter from the stripe.
Representing an encouraging step towards this goal, Simmons hit 70.7 percent (41-58) of his free throws in the Playoffs, after sinking 56.0 percent of his attempts during the regular season.
In respect to Simmons’ finishing at the rim, the Aussie ranked third among all players in the NBA this year with 1,241 total drives to the hoop. He was tied for fifth in the league with 15.5 drives per game, but converted field goals on 46.5 percent of these plays.
Brown again sees an opportunity for improvement, and expects Simmons to make headway made this summer, based on how seriously Simmons goes about his business.
“I believe Ben Simmons wants to be great,” Brown said the day after Simmons’ exit interview meeting. “This will be a part of his development path and plan.”
Given Simmons’ style of play, his jumpshot will likely always generate a high degree of scrutiny. He had varying degrees of success with the shot throughout the year.
Over the final 10 games of the regular season, for instance, he connected on 43.5 percent (10-23) of the attempts he took between distances of 8 and 16 feet, according to stats.nba.com.
On the heels of the Boston Celtics minimizing his chances to attack the lane during the Sixers’ second-round Playoffs series, Simmons knows that down the road, it will be important for opponents to honor his range.
“Obviously, I’m very good at getting to the rim and making plays,” Simmons said at the end of the season. “That’s what they were trying to stop me from doing. They did a good job of doing that. But it’s one of those things where you want to improve your game and get better. Once you start hitting the shots, they change up their defense, so everything has a counter.”
To help Simmons with all aspects of his shooting this off-season, the Sixers plan to have the 2016 no. 1 pick spend “intense time” (Brown’s phrase) with team shooting coach John Townsend. Such was also the case last summer, when Townsend travelled to Australia to work with Simmons.
Brown made clear, however, Simmons’ shot will not be undergoing a “complete rebuild.”
“There will be some intense refinement,” said Brown, “but to call it a complete blow up and makeover, I’m not prepared to do that.”
Simmons views the situation similarly:
“I think [changing] minor things, but changing the whole shot, no. I think just working on it, adjusting to where I want the ball, loosening my shoulder up also, and just getting shots up.”
In Brown’s eyes, there’s no better teaching tool than the sting of a recent, motivating defeat, which Simmons and the Sixers experienced in their Eastern Conference Semifinals loss to the Celtics.
“Whether it’s a jump shot, a free throw, the inspiration to work is real in his head given the situation we just left,” said Brown. “To carry over with his sort of personal desire to improve, along with the memory of what just happened of how teams are guarding him, it’s an easy sell for the summer, and I think Ben’s going to knock it out of the park.”