On Ben Simmons, His Shooting, and Annoying Media Questions

I get the sense that Ben Simmons doesn’t like talking to the media.

Why would he?

Most of the time he’s mobbed by 15+ people and five video cameras, answering dumb questions with justifiably short answers. That’s the post-game locker room scene, where some folks can’t go five seconds without hearing the sound of their own voice.

So I understand why Ben is the way he is. We can squeeze some more meaningful quotes out of him after a practice session or in a more relaxed setting, but most availabilities are a clunky free-for-all that provides nothing interesting or pertinent.

Case in point, last night’s post-game scrum, which lasted two minutes and five seconds and ended with these three questions regarding the 20-foot jump shot that was originally waved off, then reversed, after a bogus shot clock violation:

Q: What were your feelings after that long shot, and you had to wait through the review?

“I don’t want to say anything about (the situation).. I knew it should have counted. I don’t know why (the ref) questioned it, but it is what it is.”

Q. Does that make you say, ‘Hey, I can hit a shot from this range,’ and make you think about taking more of those?

“Yea. I know I can. I hit it, so.”

Q: Will we see it more often? 

“Yea, definitely.”

<end availability>

Short and to the point. You could tell he was annoyed by those questions, which is usually the case when we ask about his shooting.

That’s just the type of person Ben is. From day one he’s been a stone cold killer who seems to care about basketball and not much else. Fans should be pretty thrilled with that, because at the end of the day it’s the only thing that really matters, certainly more than anything he says to ‘we the media.’

But I think it’s worth explaining that when we ask those questions (it was me and Jon Johnson on the last two), that it doesn’t come from a position of negativity or condescension. We’re talking about a rookie with an already-elite skill set who just put up another triple double last night, and I think everyone has acknowledged plenty of times before just how remarkable his athleticism and natural talent really is.

The jump shot questions are sort of a cumulative tracking of his progress in the one area where he doesn’t yet excel. We’re talking about a guy who can be in the upper pantheon of NBA superstars if that part of his game continues to grow. And when he hits the longest shot of his still-nascent career, it’s absolutely worth asking about.

That’s all the questions really are. From the beginning of the season through February 15th, we’ve paid close attention to how Ben shoots the ball and how that part of his game has evolved. We don’t come at it from a position of, “why didn’t you shoot that shot?” or “are you concerned about your free-throw shooting?” It’s more like, “do you feel more confident with your jump shot?” or “how far do you think you’ve come in that department?” It’s really not combative at all, at least not intentionally. I think everybody recognizes just how special of a player he is, so the questions are always framed contextually from the angle of, “shit… he could really be one of the best to ever put on a Sixers uniform.”

I asked Brett Brown basically the same thing I asked Simmons – does Ben seeing that ball go in, no matter the bizarre circumstances, show that he can actually hit from 20 feet and result in him taking a few more of those looks?

“Maybe,” Brown said. “You know, he’s had more pull-ups over the past few games and has made some. Maybe. Ultimately we all get that that’s going to have to be part of his game. If we’re lucky to get in the playoffs, the regular season is so much different than the playoffs, to go beat somebody four times, you have scouting reports, the game, then the next game – there are no tricks anymore. And weaknesses get exposed in a dramatic way, incrementally. So that part of Ben’s game we will continue to grow. He’s got the poise and confidence to do it. He’s not afraid of the moment. That shot you mention, we got a little lucky but we’ll take it.”

Let’s be honest, the only reason Simmons shot this ball is because the shot clock was running out. He got the potato back on a broken play, tried to dribble a few feet closer, and then let fly:

For a moment there, we thought he had been robbed of the longest contested pull-up that’s he ever made. Thankfully they corrected the bizarro decision.

Before that attempt, he tried a couple more from outside the paint and missed every single one:

That’s fine! There’s nothing wrong with that at all. Guy put up a triple-double without Joel Embiid on the floor and still had the wherewithal to try some more jumpers from outside the paint. Better to try and miss instead of bottling up and just avoiding those shots entirely.

That’s another thing to consider here. Nobody is asking Ben to make this his game, we’re just looking at adding another dynamic to it. That’s why I think it’s corny when the crowd is yelling “shoot!” when he’s standing at the three-point line. It can be a significant part of his game someday, but right now it doesn’t have to be, as you see on this play here where he ignores the crowd, passes on a wide open look, and throws Richaun Holmes the alley-oop on a pick and roll:

It’s illustrated plainly over at NBASavant.com, where Ben’s shot chart and heatmap show that he doesn’t have a ton of success outside of the paint. But if you’ve watched him throughout the season, you see steady improvement here, where he’s getting at least a little closer to the league average outside of the restricted area but inside the three-point arc:

The mid-range jumper can add more pick and roll offense to his game and make him more dangerous overall, but he’s never going to be a three-point shooter and probably doesn’t need to be, not when you can do this kind of damage from the same position:

Here’s the thing; Ben Simmons has the chance to be an elite motherfucker. He really does. We’ve got LeBron James  saying that he thinks Simmons could be better than he is someday.

That’s why we ask about the jump shot. We know Ben can run the floor, pass the ball, rebound, and finish at the rim. That’s all established. We could spend all day fawning over that stuff, and it’s important to reiterate those things and continue to give credit where it’s due. We’ve made the case that, yea, he was probably snubbed for the All-Star game.

But in the cut-throat world of professional sports, nobody gives a shit about the things you’re already good at. So if those questions come off as annoying, whatever. Believe me when I tell you that this isn’t about harping on a weakness or being overly negative. This is about the evolution of a skill that can turn a really good player into a perennial superstar.

 

 

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